Posted on July 08 2016
Ukrainian embroidery artisan of “Femmebroidery” brand, a habitant of Canada Maria Arseniuk speaks on things that matter. Feminism, sexism, political issues and art as a reflection of creator’s personality, opinion and lifestyle.
You are a Ukrainian girl living and working in Canada. How did you move there?
I moved to Canada when I was very young. It was still the Soviet Union. My mother worked for Foreign Affairs and got a pass to Cuba. We lived in Havana and waited out the collapse of the USSR. Once it finally happened, we moved to Canada in 1992.
You are very young and talented. Where did you get your skills in embroidery? Was the idea of making embroidered hoops a hobby or a purpose for business?
I got into embroidery completely accidentally. When I was just a child, maybe 9 or 10, a friend of the family gave me a book of stitches. At the time, I was in art classes but I primarily focused on pencil drawings. This was a new form of art that I found really captivating, because of all the combinations you could create with the colours and stitches. That is how it all began, but it didn’t truly bloom until much later, when I was working on a PhD. I was so tired of academia that I turned back to embroidery both as a form of relaxation and distraction. My degree was in Women’s, Gender and Feminist Studies and I began embroidering feminist sayings like “keep your rosaries off my ovaries” in protest of the strict abortion laws. I posted a photo on Facebook and a friend suggested I open an Etsy shop. And that is how Femmebroidery (feminist embroidery) was born.
You embody bright and modern embroidery designs with a help of traditional techniques. What techniques do you use?
I rarely think about techniques. I just stitch what comes to mind and what feels natural. I’m rarely disappointed (smiling).
We really like the fact that you use a hoop. It returns to childhood, a flashback to warm memories! How did the idea to create such greeting home furnishings appeared?
I like the hoop because it’s a way to show off the work without hiding the tactile details behind glass. It invites the viewer to touch it and become more familiar with how the stitches work together. This process would be lost in a traditional glass frame.
Most of the signatures on your hoops has strong character, which displays strong opinion, social position of a person, profanity, motivating phrases or lines of well-known songs. You make a signature only on custom’s requests or on your own?
The sayings are almost exclusively my own. Personally, I think art must make people uncomfortable in order to be effective. If someone is uncomfortable with “fuck your gender norms” - why? Perhaps they can look at it and question their belief system, even if only fleetingly.
Are those phrases that you have stated yourself reflect your personality in some way? If yes, then how?
Always! The hoops, like my personality, are bold and crass. I never shy away from politics, or controversy for that matter.
Are you a feminist? Do you think that feministic ideology can be perceived in the Ukraine adequately with time? Women often face with sexism in Ukraine. Have you ever faced with sexism in Canada?
Yes, I am a feminist and a very proud one. Feminist ideology has already made its appearance in Ukraine and once a cultural revolution starts, it can’t be undone. The seeds have already been planted. I always think of feminism as a toolbox: it gives you the tools and language to address and call out the social and cultural issues you may not have been able to articulate before. I think in Ukraine there is a lot of resistance to feminism; for those who are privileged (in this case straight, white men) equality can feel a lot like oppression. That’s not to say that we aren’t moving forward. I was in Kiev for the first Pride Parade (Equality March). This was historic. To have 4000-5000 participants was monumental. There are pockets of feminist activism everywhere - just look at the Facebook group FemSolution. Just recently there was a flash mob with #яНеБоюсьСказати. If to say about Canada, I’ve definitely dealt with sexism here. For example, women still only earn 70 cents on the dollar to men in the same profession, with the same education and the same credentials. It’s unacceptable. Having lived in both countries, it’s my personal experience that there are more opportunities for women in Canada, however we still have a long way to go, too.
My favorite among the embroidery hoop is the one that I saw on Instagram. It is “What would Beyoncé do”. I would hung it in my bedroom for inspiration. Which one are your favorite? Which ones are very popular among customers?
I like that one a lot too! My personal favourite…that’s tough. I like doing the ‘fuck’ one, and ‘fuck your gender norms’ - I basically like anything with the two F’s: feminist and fuck. Coincidentally, those are the two most popular ones among buyers.
You are a young girl, but you already have a successful store on Etsy and more than 20,000 subscribers on Instagram. You have a great experience of running your own business. Can you say that your hobby is your dream job?
My dream job is to work 50/50: running my own business and also working for a non-profit that focuses on women and/or queer communities. I’m still working towards that aspect, but the business is exactly where I want it to be. I get to do what I love, I work from home, create my own schedule and have a relatively steady income. In addition to the Etsy shop, I also offer workshops, sell at markets and have collaborations with local businesses. I think as most artists and freelancers know all too well there is a constant struggle between doing what you love and living affordably and working a 9-to-5 with significantly more income and benefits. I think we can often fall into the trap of thinking about what we “should” be doing, how much we “should” be earning and what a “real” job is. I can say with confidence that I love what I do now, but the intellectual warrior part of me also craves a part-time position with a local community organization that can co-exist with running “Femmebroidery”.
What advice would you give to beginners, who want to lead their accounts on Instagram and get subscribers? Share your experience.
Hashtags are your best friends. There are broad and specific hashtags. The broad ones apply to all creatives; the specific ones to your exact craft. For example, as an embroider
I often tag ones specific to embroidery like #modernembroiderymovement #DMCthreads and #embroideryinstaguild. If someone is a knitter for example, the hashtags they would want to use are #knittersgonnaknit #knittersofinstagram and #knittinginspiration. Then you want to include the broad ones that appeal to people outside of your genre - you don’t want to only target to embroiders or only to knitters, but to the larger market. So things like, #craftsposure, #psimadethis, #cylcollective. A lot of these hashtags also belong to larger blogs with 100,000+ followers and if they feature your work it gives you an opportunity to connect with new followers. Another strategy I use is to host a giveaway with 3-4 other popular makers. So for example, you reach out to some other artists that you follow. You each contribute one item to the giveaway. The giveaway generally lasts the weekend and people have to follow each of the artists and tag 2 friends to be entered in the giveaway. By doing this your account is exposed to the followers of 3-4 other artists plus the people that are tagged in your post. After the most recent giveaway Femmebroidery attracted 1,000 new followers.
Where do you create your works? Do you have your own workroom or your favorite place where you won’t be bothered?
My workspace is very simple. I have a table beside a large window in my home for lots of natural light and of course, a beautiful view of the fields and trees, and on a clear day the mountains.
You have incredibly beautiful and stylish embroidered pendants! They can be combined with any clothes. Can any special patterns, the value of which will be known only to the owner, be ordered? Did you get such orders?
I’ve never had someone ask to use their own pattern, but I certainly wouldn’t say “No” to such a request!
Do you have plans to develop a range of other products with embroidery? Personally, I would wear a T-shirt with the phrase “What would Beyoncé do?” :)
This one is tricky! There is a limit to what you can embroider on. Most T-shirts are not 100% cotton and often include materials such as lycra and spandex, which can distort. But perhaps one day I will branch out to banners and badges - after all, where is the fun in owning your own business, if you don’t grow it to encompass new ideas?