Embroidered samplers: virtual special exhibit

As a medium of communication for such themes as contraception, pregnancy tests, abortions and other aspects of women’s freedom to make decisions, handicrafts are, in fact, not at all suitable. On the contrary: no other cultural technique more powerfully communicates the classic role model of the good girl who keeps busy working on her dowry, thereby proving she will make a worthy wife and mother. The traditional motifs, spiralling blossoms, ornaments and monograms, are passed down from one generation to the next, from grandmothers to mothers to granddaughters.

US artist Katrina Majkut breaks with this classically feminine connotation in her cross-stitch works. Rather than leaves and flowers, lambs and clouds, she embroiders condoms and packages of birth-control pills, IUDs and pregnancy tests. The results are disturbing and revealing.


Selection of works from Katrina Majkut, “In Control”, chashama 266 gallery, New York, June 2015:

Embroidery was also part of her own socialisation: at the age of ten, her mother taught her the family tradition of Ukrainian folk art. Twenty years later, Majkut realised that, while she was happy to pass on a beautiful, pleasant and satisfying cultural technique, this also perpetuated a traditional understanding of women’s roles.

After Majkut’s political and sociological awakening, she recognised more and more clearly how the traditional clichés of marriage and a woman’s life are diametrically opposed to our modern views. One example: while US handicraft companies sell embroidery packages with nostalgic, romantic motifs to their industrious female customers, the country’s Supreme Court ruled to give a chain of stores, Hobby Lobby, greater influence over what its insurance plan pays for than the employers themselves enjoy. The company’s founders, Barbara and David Green – Baptists from Oklahoma – argued that financing their employees’ family planning conflicts with their religious beliefs. Among other things, this involves the morning-after pill and IUDs. This decision was handed down in June 2014 by five male judges who overruled three females and one male.

Majkut reacted to this and a number of similar developments with a ‘woman’s weapons’, namely embroidery that takes a stand. Her oversize embroidered objects reflect the traditional expectations society places on women back upon society. Her pieces were exhibited at New York’s chashama 266 gallery in June 2015.