Aug 17 2007

Cancer sampler


I was mucking out the Twisty Archive of Abandoned Projects when I came across this funky and anomalous object. “Oh yeah,” I said. “That thing!”

It’s a self-portrait in cancerbroidery, incompleted a summer ago as I recuperated from, and felt compelled to represent in a medium with which I was entirely unfamiliar, assorted barbaric cancer cures. I’m no embroiderer, but I can attest to the therapeutic forces contained in wool thread.

I thought some of you crafty types might appreciate the vigor of its naivete.


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  1. Rikibeth

    That’s some damn fine embroidery, there.

    (And I speak as one whose dad taught her the intricacies of satin stitch, stem stitch, French knots, and reading stitch diagrams at the tender age of four, when a Snoopy and Charlie Brown crewelwork kit was just too tempting.)

  2. kiki

    It is very reminiscent of Frida’s self portraits. The texture on the skin is outta this world. Maybe the cancer society should consider putting that image on their golf shirts and sun visors.

  3. Pinko Punko

    Makes me think of a modern day Frida Kahlo, and a little bit Laurie Anderson. I think it is awesome in a way that doesn’t in anyway endorse Big C or the suffering it incurs. I think I mean to say it gets across many of the things you’ve written about. If this were a series, I would suggest some sort of strangling pink ribbon snake.

  4. Cass

    That’s one scary piece of artwork, all the more so because you look like Venus strolling out of the ocean. (I know you won’t like that, but at least you’re not Saint Teresa.)

  5. Linda Atkins

    I love this! And your explanation is so funny, as always. I advised my mother to hasten this way and take a look. I know she’ll like it, too.

  6. magickitty

    Fantastic, actually.

  7. Antoinette Niebieszczanski

    Wow, I’m impressed. I can cross-stitch like a mofo riot, but my French knots don’t hold.

    One of my samplers hangs on the wall at the ol’ Niebieszczanski homestead:

    When I was young and in my prime,
    You see how well I spent my time,
    And by this sampler you may see
    What care my parents took of me.

    And, natch, the Eisenhower Blessing that my mom did displayed more prominently in the front room. Her stitchery was flawless.

  8. Megan A.

    THAT is the most post-modern use of embroidery I have ever seen. I love it!

  9. Celeste

    It’s awesome. It really is. The placement, the shading, the juxtapositions. My first thought was that you had done it with punch-needle wool, which would be so incredibly appropriate for the invasiveness of the experience. But no, it’s done in very intricate embroidery. You kept great tension on the fabric, and you have consistent coverage within the design.

    This should have a place of prominence on your site somewhere. It’s well done and very evocative.

  10. Hecate Demetersdatter

    Amazing. I guess I’d have to have embroidered me throwing up; that’s my main memory of having cancer.

  11. Ginger Mayerson

    That’s pretty damn good-lookin’ stitch work there, Twisty. Will you be framing it or putting it on the tea tray?

  12. Jodie

    DAYUM, Twisty, that is excellent stitching!!!

  13. Violet Socks

    You’re no embroiderer? Looks like pretty damn fine work to me. I never got past the sampler I made as a kid where I executed the name “David” with 16 stitches.

  14. alphabitch


  15. Sasha

    That is an amazing piece of work. I’m having a little trouble swallowing the non-embroiderer part but it might just be a genetic predisposition to things woolish. How large is it?

    (And I totally agree about the theraputic value intrinsic in wool.)

  16. Nancy

    Magnificent artwork.

  17. Twisty

    I assure yall, if you saw the thing in real life its amateurosity would cry out to you. Knowing less than nothing about stitching, I made it up as I went along. I’m pretty sure I was heavily wacked on Vicodin at the time. The figure is about 8″ long, and JPG compression has smoothed it out some. But I thank you for the compliments all the same.

  18. metamanda

    I love that.

  19. TruthandDare

    Hey, making it up as you go along is the difference between using fabric to do art and playing “color in the lines” with needle and thread. This piece is great, even if it is rough in execution.

  20. medrecgal

    That’s totally kick-ass, Twisty! Sometimes “execution” isn’t the point; this embroidery says a lot more than some prettified thing done by an expert.

  21. genevievetaggard

    Great job. It just expresses so much, starting with that pincushion feeling that happens when one becomes, to the medical world but even beyond, a “patient” instead of a regular, autonomous human being.

    Since last year, I’ve been in such a dark place – not cancer, but very much patriarchy-related. Katrina is a full half of the reason. Although patriarchy didn’t create the hurricane, the said hurricane hit the Mississippi coast while only sideswiping my beloved NOLA, and the rest of the damage in NOLA resulted from years of government lies, ineptitude, greed, and neglect. IBtP

    So, my mom lost her job as a Jefferson Parish high school teacher (housing destroyed = no students = no job), and moved 2400 miles away. She was my friend, the only friend I had – or, frankly, have ever had – who would drop everything to go to a book signing, lecture, or art exhibit somewhere.

    Anyway, with that and other personal horrors (all 100% ripe for patriarchy blaming) all in the same year, I ended up spending a month in a day program at the hospital being treated for severe depression. While at the program, we had an arts and crafts portion three times a week, and while I am the last person I would have thought of as artistic, I found the actual DOING was therapeutic because of the way it clears your mind of your nightmarish reality for a little while. I didn’t realize that until the program actually kind of forced me to try it.

    So, last Christmas all of my gifts were homemade – a crocheted shawl/hat, a nursery ensemble, a collage depiction of the life and interests of my recently deceased father-in-law. My sister-in-law, no artiste either, hugged me and said, “Damn girl, you went into the hospital and came out Martha Stewart!”

    Since Christmas, however, I find I am creatively blocked, mostly, I think, because the other people in my house are selfish users who leave their messes everywhere and no place is truly mine (Charlotte Perkins Gillman, you were so right!). I have been wanting to collage a photo of myself that shows me ripped down the middle somewhat and bleeding from the split and dark things coming in and out (this is mostly about what being married under the patriarchy is doing to me; thanks for the “thread on marriage” because I know now it’s not just me). I’m copying Frida in a way, but I honestly believe I would be thinking of this even if I didn’t know who Frida was.

    Sorry for the “all about me” stuff. I was so moved by the work. I just started out to say that it shows what I’ve been daydreaming of showing with a piece of art for some time – reality and pain.

    Nice work, Twisty, and I really hope this finds you well.

  22. Hawise

    As a serious stitcher, I say kudos. Quibbles about tension and texture can be set aside because the design is so awesome. What else is in the Archive?

  23. Vera

    Ah, but the masterpiece is not the needlework itself, but the photo of it, clearly!

  24. Jeanne

    I love it, Twisty! You’ve pretty much captured the whole wretched experience, and I love how you depicted yourself upright and fierce despite all the wretched treatments. Good stuff.

  25. OptimistiCynic

    It’s gorgeous, Twisty. Gorgeous.

    I’ve found research that says that crafts like embroidery, crafts that aren’t physically strenuous but are repetative and visually stimulating, help your brain to release and/or use seratonin. So, crafts are an antidepressant! I believe it. And that explains how they can feel addictive once you’re in a stitchin’ groove.

    So let’s all pick up some traditionally wimmins’ work and embroider, sew, knit, crochet, or tat our way to an all-natural high while blamin’ the hell out of the patriarchy.

  26. PhoenixRising

    My sister, who is happily enough married to her Nigel, is teaching my destined-to-be-het daughter to knit.

    Knowing all this, I will further encourage them to explore more openly articulated methods of serotonin use and patriarchy-blaming, as it seems to be the perfect combination.

    And they’re gonna need it, I’m sure.

  27. Violet Socks

    GenevieveTaggard, do you know Twisty’s forum? If you want to be able to blame the patriarchy, talk about depression, and discuss craft projects all in one place, I think you’d like it. Seriously.

  28. Catherine

    Are you fucking kidding me? That was your first ever attempt at embroidery?? That is incredible!! Holycrappamoly! You should open a shop and sell your embroiderart! I don’t usually go cuss on strangers’ sites, even wonderment-cussing, but I just had to say this was ridiculously incredible.

  29. Funambulator

    Ack, Twisty, did you have the Red Devil chemo? Me too!

    I agree with a previous commenter who said that the embroidering process, with its repetitive needs sticks, is highly representative of the cancer treatment experience.

    It looks well-done to me, but the only thing I’ve ever “embroidered” is the mouth on a sock monkey. I’d totally wear your design on the part of a golf shirt where the alligator usually is.

  30. Shiloruh

    As a long time embroidery enthusiast, I must say: Thats some damn fine work!

    However, my ability to sew is not due to a natural interest but in early lifetime femininty training.

    IBTP but still admire your work.

  31. genevievetaggard

    Thank you, Violet Socks. I’ve read your intro at the welcome part of the forum and lots of other stuff there too. I joined up, got registered, have read all the FAQ and welcome stuff I can find, and although I can sign in, I am unable to figure out how to post anything. I emailed Twisty about it and she said she would let the moderators know, so for now I sit, like a puppy with its nose to the window, eagerly but respectfully waiting.


  32. Genevieve

    Twisty–you clearly have talent when it comes to this sort of thing, but seeing it today makes me want to cry. Two days ago I drove my grandmother to the hospital for her radiation treatment, and it was truly depressing to see everyone there who was possibly dying from cancer…and then I found out that one of my friends at work has an inoperable brain tumor. I’m glad you were able to find some catharsis through creative work, however.

    Oh, and this is for genevievetaggard–I was wondering if you would prefer that I add on my last name as well in order to make things less potentially confusing? The first time I posted here I didn’t know there was another Genevieve, and now I see there is. Just wondering.

  33. Pinko Punko

    I don’t want to comment too much on Twisty’s art in the abstract because it has a deeply personal relation to her (or maybe I am presuming), but I did want to ask if the face like aspect of the bleeding wounds was just a happenstance or if it was accentuated by artistic decisions. When I look at the image it reminds me of the complicated images that look like one thing or another depending on how your mind processes it (like this one). It really is very provocative.

  34. Lauredhel

    I think it’s amazing. I’m reminded somewhat of this C section art.

  35. gentaggard

    Hey, Genevieve. That’s generous of you! How about if I change mine to GenTaggard?

    I’ve been posting at political blogs under that name, GenTaggard, for a long time, but I had decided to start spelling it out completely because I was disappointed to find how few people knew who Genevieve Taggard was. No biggie though, since, as I say, I have an online history as “GenTaggard.”


    P.S. I got the forum to let me post, finally. Thank you Twisty and Magic Kitty (who is, apparently, genuinely magic!) and Violet Socks.

    Oh, has anyone else read the “Quilters’ Circle” novels? I bought one on clearance and then discovered it was seventh in a series. I loved it. Great female characters, different reasons for quilting, a lot of emphasis on women’s space at the “quilters’ camp,” debate about preserving old-fashioned techniques v. exploring modern ones – just a good story too. I was wondering if anyone else has read them.

    The figure in Twisty’s embroidery is just 8 inches? Apparently the meds were keeping your fingers steady, because I can’t imagine doing that much detail in 8 inches.

  36. saltyC

    The sunglasses really add that Twisty irony to it.

  37. Buttercup

    Now THAT is crazy and sexy.

    You oughta send it to the folks at TLC.

  38. Genevieve

    Okay, cool, that works.

  39. Joanna

    I haven’t embroidered for a really long time. This is giving me the urge. It’s so cool that your free-styled it.

  40. Liza

    I love this portrait. First attempt or not, something about the medium — perfect for the subject/theme and jarring at the same time — and the message, really works for me.

  41. Iris

    Hotdamn, that is wonderful embroidery!

    Yes, Khaloesque.

  42. yankee transplant

    Self portrait, Twisty-style. I love this thing!

  43. BabyPop

    That is awesome! I also took up embroidery while recovering from cancer treatment.

  44. Supermouse

    That’s both an inspiring and terrible piece of art. Terrible in the old sense, inspiring terror. It makes cancer seem so very bad. Well, duh, I know cancer is very bad, but it’s all very hypothetical usually during programmes on the subject and cancer research appeals. That picture isn’t at all remote or clinical. It scares me in a good way. I don’t want to look at it because it’s icky, says scary things and frightens me, and I know that, unlike horror stories, this embroidery is true. It makes me intensely uncomfortable, and that’s why I like it, and that is why, even if in reality the stitches look glued on, it’s still an absolutely amazing piece of art. I think the word I might actually be looking for is ‘terrific’.

    I’m horribly depressed now and then because of migraine, all the time. I think I might have to try embroidery again. I have all the tools.

  45. Shannon

    Utterly brilliant!

  46. slythwolf

    That right there is fine art.

  47. shula

    That is fanfuckingtastic.

  48. Serene Wright

    How very Frida Kahlo!

  49. the baboon

    I twenty-eighth the Frida comparison. Beautiful composition, and very evocative. Embarrassingly — as I know I should be seeing the artistic forest here rather than the technical trees — I have been wondering what stitch you used to do the shaded filling work in the figure’s body?

  50. Twisty

    “I have been wondering what stitch you used to do the shaded filling work in the figure’s body?”

    Hell if I know. I just called it all “sewing” and left it at that.

  51. the baboon

    Yep. Figured that with your eye, it might just be something like that. You’d probably be the type who one day decides to take a chisel to a hunk of marble, producing a ten foot tall parodic Pieta in perfect realistic detail, and then describes your process as having just “whacked away at it.”

  52. Sky

    Clearly, we all need a higher-resolution version of this stitchwork!

    Is there anything Twisty can’t do?

  1. Speaking Truth at Hoyden About Town

    […] has an amazing piece of embroidery art up on her blog. For those who don’t know her, Twisty was last year recovering from a […]

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