I’m going to start with an obvious question, how did the Profanity Embroidery Group (PEG) begin as an idea and then form as a group?
The Profanity Embroidery Group came about by accident really. I shared an old Rino Piccolo cartoon on my facebook feed. My mum had always embroidered, and years ago I had torn this cartoon out of the New Yorker, I think, and sent it to her. In the summer of 2014, mum was looking through her books and the cartoon fell out. My dad then scanned it and emailed it back to me. I laughed so much when I saw it, I decided to share it. The cartoon shows a lovely older woman sitting stitching, covering everything with hearts and flowers and ‘Fuck the World’. The catch line is “Mrs Winchester finds a positive outlet for frustrated negative energy”.
‘Real Women Fart’ embroidery by Jan Lewis from the Profanity Embroidery group
The response from my friends, and friends of friends, was immediate. Within an hour, we had the name Profanity Embroidery Group, and acronym PEG, and myself and Wendy Robinson had arranged to loiter in one of our wonderful local pubs on the following Tuesday, and see if anyone wanted to turn up and join.
Much to our amazement, the door kept opening, and women sidled in muttering loudly “is this the Profanity Embroidery Group”. By the end of that first evening, we had a vague plan to make a Quilt of Profanity, and the group was well and truly launched.
Are there any skills required to join? Also what reasons do your members have for becoming part of the group?
No skills are necessary: we’ve had people join who are excellent at swearing but complete novices at stitching, who are now producing amazing work, and then fortunately (otherwise our Quilt of Profanity would have been a nightmare) we’ve had people join with brilliant stitching abilities, but lacking a profane vocabulary. I’m glad to say they are also coming along fine and their use of swearing has improved immensely. One of my favourite reasons for someone joining was that they wanted to do something that was in no way ‘self improving’.
‘Can’t be arsed’ embroidery by Alison J Lee from PEG
I love the idea of pairing ‘stitching and swearing’. Embroidery can be perceived as a such a genteel pastime and yet profanity is regarded as opposing assumptions of ‘lady-like’ behaviour. Putting the two together is genius! While I love the humour, is there a feminist premise at all to this regarding, for example, female expression or ideas about the art women create?
There is indeed. Some of our work is more subtle than others, but there is something rather glorious in beautifully embroidering the word Cunt. It is an old old word, but is seen as vicious and derogatory, the worst of the worst, but if you can happily use it, and stitch it, the word has lost its power to hurt you. The group is made up of around thirty people (at the moment we only have one male member) and we try to keep to this size as a manageable group. Everyone has their own individual take on what they do, and why they do it, what they want to express, and indeed how they want to express their ideas, and sometimes the word is more serious. We collaborated with the poet Leah Thorne on her Older Women Rock project, which had grown out of her experience of ageing as a woman, interpreting her poems onto vintage clothing, which some of us then modelled. It was profanity free work, but really powerful.
What do you think women especially gain for joining a group like yours?
A damn good laugh.
´Fucketyfucketyfuckfuckfuck´ by Annie Taylor from PEG
Rozsika Parker’s iconic 1984 book ‘The Subversive Stitch’ and the work of Miriam Schapiro, who created the artwork “Anonymous was a Woman” (1976), aimed to recognise and elevate the status of traditional women’s crafts. For me, groups like PEG are reflective of much more than the crafts created but highlight the value in collective experience within the tradition of women’s communal work. Would you agree?
Yes, I would. Interestingly though, we have never planned anything, or thought about the ‘why’ of what we are doing. As I say, we began by accident, not because of a particular concept, and have rather tumbled from one project to the next. The ideas are communally generated, and refined, with a bit of gentle steering. For example our recent Lady Garden project began as an idea for a workshop, using a Beaver design by one of our members, Alison Fitzgerald Lucas originally intended for the Quilt of Profanity. It was an ideal image to give out as a template, and so much that could be done with it. We then decided to make it our project for the Whitstable Biennale Satellite, and at that point discovered the Gynaecological Cancer Fund’s own LadyGarden campaign, and decided to use our Lady Gardens to help raise some funds for the campaign.
Finally, would you encourage others to form their own groups and if so, any advice or tips for doing so?
Others have tried to form their own groups, but do seem to have fizzled out for various reasons. One reason for PEG’s success I think is that were not a group of close friends when we formed – most of the initial members I did not in fact know – they were friends of friends who had been told about this mad idea and wanted to be part of it. We meet in the pub,The Duke of Cumberland, a public space where people can come and join in on their own, or observe us from a distance and decide whether they want to join us. If we met in a closed space, it makes it difficult for others to feel as though they can just rock up and join in, and if the meeting is in someone’s house, they are not necessarily going to want to welcome total strangers. So I think the ‘where’ of the meeting is very important. We love meeting in the pub, even if, in mid winter, we cannot see what we are doing so well, and just have to drink… the drink also helps the ideas flow.
‘TWAT’ hand embroidery by Wendy Robinson
Thank you Annie so much for this, love the group, keep up the brilliant work! x