The Godfather Of Modern Cross Stitch

This post was originally in XStitch Magazine Issue 15: 70s, and has been adapted.

When it comes to the 70s and cross stitch there is only one thing that comes to mind. The one thing that is most coveted by all cross stitchers, even if they don’t really know it yet. A prize so valuable that Indiana Jones himself would have to track it down across the Indian plains, encountering secret cults and eventually having to steal it from within some weird giant stone booby trap thing. A prize that is said to melt the faces off those who aren’t followers of cross stitch, a prize that will literally cost you a week’s wages or more, a prize that can only be called one thing… the ark of the… wait… I mean Rosey Grier’s Needlepoint for Men.

Today, we take you on the story behind the most coveted of cross stitch memorabilia, and why this very blog and every cross stitcher reading it, owes a debt to Rosey Grier.

rosey grier cross stitcher (source: amazon)
rosey grier cross stitcher (source: amazon)

The book itself, for those unacquainted, is needlepoint, rather than cross stitch, and is, let’s say ‘uniquely 70s’. But the book isn’t important in itself, but what it represents is. To help explain this, we need to go back to a time when gender roles were fixed, where hobbies like needlepoint were just starting to take off, and when the very idea of a needlepoint book for men was a laughing stock.

“If anyone would have told me that I would go from football to needlepoint, I would have laughed in their face… but if you try it once, you’ll keep on coming back for more.”

The 70s came hot on the heels of a 60s decade of radical thinking. Many countries had got over the economic issues of the post-war years, but despite great leaps forward in some areas, others struggled. This was felt strongly in less mobile industries, and the 70s saw major events, such as the 3-day week and rolling blackouts in the United Kingdom and strikes worldwide. But despite this, new technologies such as washing machines were in increasing volumes of households, and housewives (and only the wives) had more time on their hands.

In one of the many renaissances of cross stitch, the 70s saw the hobby being picked up by women everywhere and it truly became a hobby in its own right. It was also a time of the consumerism and many celebrities were being heralded in their own rights. This is where we first pick up the story of Rosey Grier up, with his long and distinguished American football career. For those non-US among us, I won’t focus on this too much, but needless to say, American footballers were seen even then as the toughest of the tough, the macho of the macho, bare chests and bushy moustaches (and thankfully the now forgotten speedo fashion trends).

But Rosey, left football behind in the late 60s and turned his hand to acting. He acted in films, did commercials and even hosted his own TV show in America. But arguably he might be best known in the 70s for his subduing of the armed assassin of Robert Kennedy two years ealier, despite not being his body guard. Rosey truly was, a respected icon on and off the pitch.

“Before I got into needlepoint, threading the needle is something I just used to do on the football pitch”

And then he ‘threw it away’. At least, that’s how his footballing friends saw it. Grier is brutally honest in his book, discussing the shame and harassment he received. He even calls people out in his book who treated him this way. Now, for many, the idea that a black man in the US, in the 70s chose to take a stand isn’t surprising, there are many instances where black men stood up for the end of racism. But Rosey stood up for something different; gender neutral needlepoint.

This truly was a monumental occasion too. In this new renaissance of cross stitch, Rosey was the first man to stand up and say “I stitch”. The idea that a man doing a woman’s hobby was “sissy” and he doesn’t shy away from saying that, but it’s also clear that he’s proud and unashamed. He took TV interviews, there were adverts where the book was mentioned and where you see (dare I say it) a man stitching. The book stood out as something different, and it was accepted, rather than ridiculed.

Selection of images from Rosie Griers Needlepoint For Men
Selection of images from Rosie Griers Needlepoint For Men

This goes further as well with his book containing photos of other male stitchers, those who stood up with him, in an almost Spartacus moment. But what about its legacy?

Well, not many other male stitchers held their head up until the 2000s in the ‘modern movement of cross stitch’, but actually, without Rosey’s book, many wouldn’t exist. Its pages contain design ideas such as gangsters, samurais, bold geometric patterns and themes most cross stitchers wouldn’t be seen dead stitching; but these pattern themes are in this very magazine. These are the patterns that make up the pages you’re reading, and sure, these aren’t ‘male patterns’, but without Rosey Grier, I would argue none of us would be stitching the patterns we want.

We owe a debt of gratitude to Rosey Grier, the father of modern cross stitch.

As a result, his book has become rather popular. However, finding books from the 70s, let alone in the relative niche of needlepoint is a hard task. Picking up a book now-a-days is akin to a pilgrimage, and one that will likely cost you around the £100/$150 mark. But it’s a book that isn’t like others, it’s not simply a book of patterns or techniques, it’s a part of cross stitch history.

Happy stitching!
Lord Libidan

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