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embroidery craftivism and random acts of kindness

Meet Dorothea, the amazingly talented embroidery artist and the creator of @self_love_craft_club. Hailing from Kent, on the South coast of England, Dorothea is leaving a trail of positivity in her wake. Her latest guerrilla craftivism project leaves positive embroidered messages tied in public places. We take a moment to chat with Dorothea about how she's spreading self love and challenging fatphobia one body-positive illustration at a time!

Learn how to make your own embroidery patch

Dorothea shares her super simple step-by-step tutorial to make these embroidery patterns. Download the pattern, grab yourself some embroidery thread and a couple of pieces of fabric, and you'll be stitching for change in no time!

Craft is seen as friendly and approachable, making it a great way to initiate hard conversations in a non-confrontational and respectful manner. I want to show people how embroidery can make the world a better place!

We’d love to know more about you! How did you start your creative journey?

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to be an artist. I taught myself how to sew when I was about 9 and started off by making dresses for my little dolls. There was a great textile teacher at school who taught me so much about hand embroidery techniques. I studied Art Foundation at UCA Rochester, did a degree in Textile Design at Nottingham Trent University, and now proudly hold a Master’s degree in Textile Design from Chelsea College of Arts.

Why do you make? 

To change people’s perceptions of embroidery! I have so often experienced this craft being dismissed as a lesser art form compared to more male dominated disciplines, like painting and photography. Embroidery is frequently perceived as something that is simply decorative, when it is so much more! It has given a voice to marginalised people for thousands of years. I believe this misrepresentation of embroidery is exactly what makes it such a powerful tool for social activism today. 

I find the physical process of stitching very therapeutic. As someone with ADHD and anxiety, I am often very fidgety and find it hard to relax. The repetitive action of stitching makes me feel calm. I fill almost every quiet moment I have either drawing, knitting, or sewing. Making has had such a positive impact on my mental health!

Have you experienced any creative struggles? Tell us how they’ve made you a superstar today!

At one point, I struggled to find my voice as an artist and to find confidence in my work. By the time I finished my degree, I had completely fallen out of love with embroidery and wanted to change career paths. I felt pressurised to fit into a tight box and totally lost my artistic identity. I realised I didn’t enjoy making clean, commercial samples for industry. Although hand embroidery has been a passion of mine from a young age, I previously felt there was no place for it in my professional practice and decided to do it as a hobby. I found my love for making again when I did my Masters, where I was encouraged to explore my personal style. I unlearnt the idea that my work had to be polished and easily reproduced to be successful, and instead celebrated an imperfect hand embroidery style. The message behind any art is so much more important than focusing on its beauty!

For me, the joy of embroidery is in the imperfection. My hand embroidered stitches are completely unique and can’t be mass-produced by a machine. In-fact, I’m prouder of the pieces I’ve made mistakes on because they show traces of me.

What inspired you to start your fabulous Self Love Craft Club? 

The Self Love Craft Club was originally part of my Master’s research, but was carried on because I got such a positive response, and that brought me so much joy! This project was inspired by the abundant history of feminism and craft, and draws on methods already used by women and other marginalised groups that mix craft with fat activism. I was massively inspired by Sayraphim Lothian, who created the term ‘Guerrilla Kindness’, a mixture of ‘random acts of kindness’ and craftivism. This often involves leaving an object or message to brighten a stranger’s day, with no expectation of payment or recognition. Responding to this concept, I create hand sewn pieces with anti-diet and fat-positive affirmations. These pieces are displayed in public places for people to pick up, creating a joyful interruption to their day!

The work of Dr Charlotte Cooper completely changed my life and my work. She introduced me to fat activism, her texts ‘Fat and Proud’ and ‘Fat Activism: A Radical Social Movement’ not only changed my perception of my own body but inspired me to act against fatphobia in society. Cooper explains how fat activism typically draws on DIY and self-organised culture, crossing over with craftivism, this inspired me to think about how I could use my own skills to challenge diet culture and spread kindness.

Your creations are incredible, tell us about your favourite! 

It would have to be one of the first patches I left in a bar in London, it read ‘you don’t have to be at war with your own body’. The person who found it shared a photo, tagged me, and captioned it ‘sometimes you see the message you really need to see that day, thank you’. This was so significant to me because it was astonishing to think something I made with my own hands had a positive impact on somebody’s day!

Finding the balance of making my messages empowering but not patronising has been very important. I think the original meaning of ‘body positivity’ has at times become lost, and I did not want to contribute to that. There is a risk of individualising a problem that is culturally systemic, and more complex than simply ‘loving yourself’; even though loving yourself when you don’t fit the beauty standard is a radical act. So, I wanted to avoid the messages being preachy or toxic, but rather gently offering an alternative to the fatphobic rhetoric which is so normalised. I hope these messages resonate with people and that they spread kindness! 

What are your future dreams for the Self Love Craft Club?

It’s fascinating how people have interpreted my messages, which as a result has given them new and exciting meanings! I had a response from a trans person who found my message ‘no one else deserves an opinion on your body’ relevant to their experiences. This inspired me to think about how I could challenge other societal injustices, and to collaborate with people from these groups. I see so much opportunity to grow the Self Love Craft Club and to cover other subjects I’m passionate about, such as the mental health stigma, and LGBTQIA+ issues. I hope that more people see this project and are motivated to spread inspiring textile messages in their own local communities. It would be a dream to eventually run workshops and show people how to create their own impactful works of art!

If like us, you want to run straight to your embroidery stash, and join the guerilla kindness movement then be sure to check out more of Dorothea’s amazing work at @self_love_craft_club. You can also find her fat-positive illustrations on her personal Instagram account @dorotheablackmore.

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