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Queer Embroidery

Ileana Haberman

Artist Ileana Haberman (Alex Chambers)

Producer's note: the following page contains artistic depictions of nudity.

This is Part One of a series I’m doing on "Textile Politics." I’m stealing that name from a class that was taught at Indiana University in the fall of 2021. I’ll be talking with the person who created that class, Fafnir Adamites, in a few weeks. But I want to kick the series off with a conversation about queer embroidery with a friend of mine, Ileana Haberman.

After two years of Covid, and the isolation so many people have had to endure (although not everyone’s had the choice to isolate, let’s remember that), finding ways to take care of ourselves - to keep from going crazy, but also to be more tender toward ourselves - the importance of that is ever more apparent. Turns out, as Ileana helps us understand, embroidery is one way to do that.

Embroidery has traditionally been the domain of women, at least in recent centuries in the West. In Europe, upper-class young women learned decorative embroidery. Working-class women learned to embroider too, especially if they were responsible for household linens. It was about mending cloth, and also labeling bed linens, napkins, tablecloths. It was a marketable skill. They had to be accurate and fast, and working-class women would use the need to embroider as a way to get together with each other. Which also made embroidering a political act. It was a chance for women to share their stories and speak their minds, away from men and employers. And that’s just the social side. The products could be political too, as a way for women who never learned to read to tell their stories.

Ileana Haberman brings another kind of feminist and queer angle to embroidery. Embroidery is a way to ornament cloth. That cloth often covers up the body, sometimes for warmth, sometimes modesty. The images Ileana stitches turn that covering-up on its head. Because if you wore Ileana’s images you would often be wearing nude bodies. She’s got lots of nude bodies. Her own body, actually, in bedrooms, gardens, in creeks, in trees, in dreams. It’s embroidery as autobiography, in a way, although you won’t get her life story just through the images. She also stitches quilts - like, pictures with quilts in them - and leaves, pinecones, spring ephemerals.

In this conversation, we discuss making complicated stitches as a mental health practice, making art during the pandemic, the growth of queer embroidery over the past couple decades, and more.

You can find more of her work on her website or on Instagram.

Ileana Haberman, Receive the Light (Pebbles)
Receive the Light (Pebbles) by Ileana Haberman

Book Review: Nancy Hiller's Shop Tails: The Animals Who Help Us Make Things Work

This week, the first of our reviews of local books, music, and more. Yaël Ksander reviews Nancy Hiller’s latest book, Shop Tails: The Animals Who Help Us Make Things Work, published in 2021 by Lost Art Press. This review is produced in partnership with Limestone Post magazine, where you can read the review in its entirety. Limestone Post is an independent, nonprofit magazine focused on solutions-based journalism that covers the arts, outdoors, social-justice issues, and more in Bloomington and the surrounding areas. Tune in to Inner States March 6 for Yaël's next review, of debut novels by Bloomington-based writers Greta Lind and Denise Breeden-Ost.  

Yaël Ksander’s full review of Shop Tails: The Animals Who Help Us Make Things Work, by Nancy Hiller


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