These Aren’t Your Grandma’s Cross-Stitch Samplers

by Jamie Bogert

There is no way around it – the holiday season has arrived. Lampposts have been adorned with wreaths and sparkling lights, Christmas songs have infected the radio waves, and you are stuck wondering what gift to get your Aunt Melanie this year. Well, if your Aunt Melanie is someone who’s exhausted not just by walking the streets to buy presents but by the street harassment that often comes with it, and if she’s into DIY projects – we’ve got an idea.

Created by Brooklyn based textile artist Elana Adler, the series “You Are My Duchess” explores the oppressive undertones of both her medium, cross-stitched samplers, and the messages she chooses to embroider in the cotton and linen setting. Her contemporary twist on our grandmother’s classic hobby has people both intrigued and perplexed.  

Usually, a sampler will display dainty needlework including biblical references, imagery, classic ABC’s, and numbers. While the needlework designs by Adler are as dainty as could be, the messages come from a less welcoming place. As the viewer browses through the collection, their eye is drawn to the meticulous attention to detail in each one – pinks, purples, baby blues, flowers, and delicate borders hold true to a classic embroidered piece.

Upon realizing the significance behind the collection, it becomes less of a bathroom decoration and more of a confrontation. This is the kind of feeling Adler had in mind while creating the pieces.

“You read one sampler. Perhaps you are amused, but as you continue reading and consider the body as an entire collection, the response changes. The inherent filth emerges. It is a beautification of an assault. Perhaps in the moment these statements are meant to compliment, but most don’t find vulgar, highly sexualized statements whispered or screamed at them by random strangers complimentary. Rather, they are an invasion of personal space.”

In an interview with New York Observer, Adler shared what the process these time consuming needlework samplers have meant for her personally. “I wanted to laboriously give attention to all these phrases that were verbally thrown at me in a moment,” she said. “I also liked the idea of how it tested my perseverance. That these statements would stick to me or be in my mind for a very long time.”

Each sampler is the artistic depiction of a brief moment where someone else decided they had power to throw at her. The collection as a whole challenges our views on street harassment when it’s placed so boldly on a medium that was meant traditionally for the delicate.

Acknowledging that perhaps the heaviness this series holds isn’t the best gift idea for your relatives this year, here’s hoping all the Aunt Melanies (and every one else in the world) can appreciate the energy spent and the message behind this embroidered compilation.

Here are 5 other holiday cross-stitched pieces that may prove to be more suitable wrapped up with a bow!!

1. Son of a Nutcracker Sampler from Snitches Get Stitched 


2. Ain’t Nobody Got Thyme For That from Alicia Watkins

3. Uteruses Before Duderuses from Fallen Designs 

4. I don’t think you’re ready for this jelly from The Sarcastic Stitcher

5. Learn how-to stitch with this kit! Olive U (I Love You) Cross Stitch Kit by Sewingseed 

Images via Etsy and 

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