Subversive Stitching: A New Twist On An Old Tradition

Now you’re an old lady,” my wife said as she walked through our living room. I was sitting on the couch, my feet up on the coffee table (my typical crafting stance), head bent over a piece of white fabric and a flashing needle. I was wearing my reading glasses. There may or may not have been an afghan on my lap. I was cross stitching.

But! In my defense and as I hastily proved to her, even though it was cross stitch, there was nothing “old lady” about what I was working on. I was stitching a project from Julie Jackson‘s book Subversive Cross Stitch: 50 F*cking Clever Designs for Your Sassy Side. My wife paged through the designs, giggling. Subversive messages nest in flowers or are framed by greenery. Some require a second look before you realize what you’re reading. The designs range from “I hope you choke” (my fave), “Merry Fucking Christmas,” and “Babies Suck” to, simply, “TITS” — and they’re all perfection.


The best part, though? Cross stitching is easy. Julie provides a list of supplies in the book, as well as instructions that can help you tackle any of the cheeky projects. It’s also weirdly calming — and I didn’t necessarily expect it to be. Understanding that following a cross stitch pattern involves counting and… well, more counting, I was a little doubtful of my ability to stitch accurately. But instead of anxiety-producing, I found it soothing. Plus, it’s satisfying. Small projects go quickly — even a few minutes’ work leaves you with the feeling that you’ve accomplished something.

And proving even further that she’s the coolest human on the planet, Julie designed a cross stitch pattern just for Autostraddle readers. It’s inspired by everybody’s favorite kind of content, Vapid Fluff, and is a great entrance to the world of cross stitch. Welcome, naughty grannies! You’ve found your home, sarcastic crafters! Pick up a needle and join me in giving 80% of the people on my Christmas list something cross-stitched (and sassy) this year.

A Q&A with Subversive Cross Stitch author Julie Jackson

Who taught you to cross-stitch? How did you learn?

I learned as a kid, maybe about fifth grade, in the crafty ’70s.


Do you see cross-stitching as a form of self care?

Oddly, yes. It’s very therapeutic and can definitely be a form of meditation. Plus it keeps me from biting my nails. Also, I get a lot of email from people who have found stitching “Fuck Cancer” to be extremely therapeutic.


What do you do when you need a break from cross-stitching?

I get crafty in other ways. Right now I’m totally revamping a picnic basket I found for a dollar at an estate sale. I’m really going overboard: fake daisies, pom pom fringe, Amy Sedaris fabric inside, fake grass and butterflies… it may end up being a very wacky wedding gift. I’m cross stitching a banner for the inside lid that says “Happily Ever After.”


What do traditional cross-stitchers have to say about these patterns?

I don’t really run in those circles, but I think people who have a sense of humor appreciate that part of it. I’ve never had anyone really complain to me directly, but I don’t push it on people who may not understand why it’s funny. It’s not meant to be angry, just a humorous spin on tradition.


What is your favorite design from Subversive Cross Stitch?

The Herzog quote I just finished. I made it for myself after years of thinking, planning, finding just the right frame. It makes me really happy. I’ve loved the video clip of him talking about chickens for a long time.

What kind of things inspire new patterns?

Pop culture, though I don’t do movie lines or song lyrics for the most part like some people do on Etsy. If I do lyrics, they’re usually time-tested, the kind you can’t get out of your head. It’s amazing how many ideas I gather and how few of them actually make it to cross stitch form for one reason or another.


Do you have any tips for cross stitch beginners?

Don’t freak out about being perfect; just try it. You should have seen the mess I made the first time I tried knitting. Give yourself room to screw up. Start with “You’re Doing It Wrong” just to humor yourself — that one requires you to mess it up. Just stay out of your own way, don’t overthink it. If you’re worried about doing it right, your hands will be tense and you’ll get a headache. Once you get into the groove, it’s amazingly relaxing and that’s how it should be.


Here’s the totally unique and amazing cross stitch pattern Julie created just for Autostraddle! Go wild!


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Hannah Clay Wareham

Hannah Clay Wareham blogs about DIY projects, recipes, and inspiration, over at the Homesteady, where Martha Stewart meets Liz Lemon (and LL picks the donut shop).

Hannah has written 18 articles for us.


  1. I’ve read that Dame Judi Dench spends her time waiting on-set doing ornate Jacobean embroidery of such bons mots as “You are a cunt” or “FUCK.” I love that woman.

  2. Is the Vapid Fluff pattern an actual pattern that we can download? I can’t find a link to it.

    I love Julie Jackson! I just started with cross stitch, and I’ve already completed the Broad City inspired “Nomo Fomo” pattern, and I’m currently working on a bookmark that says “Oh my god, Becky look at her book.” (It’s also from Julie’s shop). And I own her book! Suffice it to say that I want to make the Vapid Fluff pattern.

    • If it’s not downloadable (I’m guessing it’s an AS custom design) the image is high enough quality to replicate without needing a pattern. It helps to buy graphing paper — the notebook paper that’s got squares instead of college spacing or wide spacing — and plot it out so you can see where the Xs go.

  3. Looks like I’m gonna have to take up cross stitching now to make some of this awesomeness

  4. These are great. I crochet rude feminist doilies that say “Fuck the Patriarchy” or “Feminist Killjoy,” etc, in flowery font. I just giggle the whole time I’m making them.

  5. I love structured art projects, so cross-stitch has been my jam since elementary school. So of course when cute shit like this started popping up on the internet 10 or 15 years ago I thought it was SO COOL. My current catharsis is a Final Fantasy 6 Monopoly board.

    I dont have this book (I try to minimize my spending on crafting books thanks to the internet’s wide array of free to use patterns, but I may end up picking this up after all because FONTS and BORDERS and other useful things), but about 5 years ago I splurged on a cheap book of cross stitch fonts so I could turn my friends’ catch phrases into cross stitched gifts. If you’re okay with math, you can plan out your own patterns with graphing paper!

    For someone who does traditional cross stitch, I can tell you these kinds of projects are FANTASTIC because a regular project, while also therapeutic, takes a year (or two or three) to get around to finishing. These bite sized ones are just as hangable and can be knocked out in a week, easy. And you can buy dowel rods to hang them, or cheap frames from IKEA or wherever, and they look cool as tits.

  6. I cross stitch and sell them, and it’s hilarious! I crack up every time I make something. I recently finished one that said “bitch better have my money.”

    I also recently made one that says “I’m still here bitches, and I know everything. -A” which I plan on leaving in my brother’s house without telling him.

    • Oh my god, I want that second one sooo bad. PLL-themed cross stitching sounds amazing. Do one with Tippy!

  7. This post couldn’t have come at a better time! I just started cross-stitching again and I’m about to finish my current project. These will fill my time nicely!

  8. While I’ve been embroidering since I was fairly young, I just started to cross stitch this spring with the Broad City “Nomo FOMO” project, and I am obsessed! It actually surprised me how meditative it has been to cross stitch, which is a big part of why I can’t wait to get started on another. A friend just bought Julie’s book for me, but I have a feeling that I’ll be starting on “Vapid Fluff” next -thanks so much for the pattern!

    • Do it!! Ali, I’m not kidding, it is so easy. And cheap. And makes you feel cool.

  9. I hope quilting becomes more popular and “subversive.”; it’s one of my favorite crafting pastimes (other than cross-stitching and knitting) and the gay possibilities with quilts are endless!

    With so many of these needle traditions, we’re simply continuing the work of the many amazing women before us who did this kind of art to survive, support their families, or keep them warm. Why did we ever think these we’re subversive or cool?

      • That would be ideal! Or, (dreaming here) lgbt quilt groups making quilts for lgbt elders, infirm members of the community, new babies, and newlyweds, à la the southern church quilt group my mother is in.

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