Queer Hobbies: Ernest Thesiger and Interwar Embroidery

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It is generally accepted that the “Modern British Needlework” exhibition held at the Victoria and Albert Museum in July 1932 was the watershed moment in rehabilitating embroidery’s reputation as a modern art form paving the way for its acceptance into art galleries and art schools in the postwar era. This exhibition, however, was only one in a series of important displays of embroidery that took place throughout the Twenties and Thirties. Many of these included large exhibits of embroidery by men (disabled ex-servicemen, male artists, designers, aristocrats, celebrities and political figures) that today are largely forgotten. In reconsidering the interwar needlecraft hobby phenomenon, it is evident that some men, such as the artist Ernest Thesiger, were as instrumental in shaping the so-called “cross-stitch craze,” as women artists such as Mary Hogarth and Rebecca Crompton. Camp, charismatic and well-connected, Thesiger employed embroidery as part of a wider process of self-fashioning in a historical moment that witnessed the increasing alignment of effeminacy and homosexuality. This article offers a brief overview of the “masculine needlework” exhibitions in the period and a reading of Thesiger’s “effeminate embroidery,” to show how the new “queer hobbies” of the interwar years were encoded and decoded by contemporary audiences.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)292-323
Number of pages31
Issue number3
Early online date10 Mar 2017
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 3 Oct 2017


  • queer
  • hobbies
  • embroidery
  • subculture
  • effeminacy
  • camp
  • drag
  • disability


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