Manc of the Month: Atypical Stitch

Honestly right, I know I say this for every artist but we have loved Atypical Stitch’s work forever, and I actually don’t know why Sarah-Jayne Leonard hasn’t been our Manc of the Month sooner! Completely different to any other cross stitch pieces, it’s slightly whacky, beautifully imaginative and kinda raunchy! We love a nude piece her in the Cotton On MCR office! I currently have a notepad and matching mug that are covered in boob drawings. So I need to carry on this trend and get my pennies spent on some pieces by Atypical Stitch.

We chatted with Sarah-Jayne to find out more about her work, her projects and why her art is making a difference and helping some really important campaigns!

Cotton On MCR: How would you describe your work?

Sarah-Jayne Leonard: ‘I make mixed-medium embroidery art. The fabric I used is a bamboo viscose which I embellish to create a variety of bespoke designs. I use water colour paint, sequins, beads, buttons, and threads and repurposed costume jewellery – which I source from charity shops. My work predominantly focuses on both vulva and female reproductive anatomy. I started with making anatomically correct art which has now developed to a more abstract style. My vulva designs are now often not-so-subtly embedded in flowers and fruits. I have future plans for a clitoris series too.’

CO: I read that you are a research associate in the field of forensic psychiatry! That seems like a polar opposite professional to an artist. How did you get into stitching?

SJL: ‘I began sewing my own designs in the last year of my PhD. I used the process as a ‘well-being’ activity to help me switch off from work and relax during periods of anxiety. The first thing I made was a Phrenology head for a friend who is a Forensic Mental Health Nurse. If you are not familiar with Phrenology, this was a popular 19th century theory that a person’s character could be read by measuring the shape of their skull – so maybe kind of related to my full time role? I don’t have a picture of the original but here’s a similar piece.’

‘I began sharing my work on Instagram and started to receive commission requests instantly. At present I create in my spare time which suits me as this allows me to make the pieces I want to, rather than feeling pressured to sell to make a living. I would like to combine my art and academic area and have a secret ‘Mind, Crime and Punishment’ series planned for the near future.’

CO: We are huge fans of your uterus pieces, but love it more when you pair them a penis piece. I feel like ordering one of each to have above our head board. A kind of ‘his and her side’. This pair is our favourite, can you tell us about those pieces?

SJL: ‘Ohh please do order! I haven’t made a pair for quite some time. The pair in the picture were a commission for a lady who found me through Instagram. It is rare that I am requested to make penises. This might be due to 90% of my followers identifying as female.’

‘I get many requests for my uterus designs and my favourite to make are those containing metaphor such as the pieces which include; the moon cycle, a bee hive, a Venus fly trap, clocks, and shackles. Many of my followers and customers find the uterus designs empowering, particularly in a time where female reproductive rights and healthcare are under threat. However, I also try to create pieces which comment on the negative connotations of the uterus symbol – for example the overwhelming pressure that many women feel as a result of society’s expectation for women to be mothers.’

CO: What has been the proudest/best moment of your career so far?

SJL: ‘I like how my art allows me to get involved in causes that I find important. The first campaign I was involved with was the launch of #girlswanktoo founded by @thepinkprotest which aims to demystify the taboos which surround female masturbation. I have been involved in a few things since, but my proudest moment was being asked to contribute a piece to the ‘It’s complicated’ exhibit at the @springerartscollective.’

‘The gallery organised an auction night which benefitted the @plannedparenthood Peer Advocate Program. This program trains high school students to serve as resources for sexual and reproductive health information in their schools and communities.’

CO: We’ve been following your Instagram for a long time and seen the odd negative comment on your work. What do you say to those people that think your work is ‘repulsive’ or those that find it ‘disturbing’?

SJL: ‘If I am honest I rarely respond – my style isn’t for everyone and that’s fine. I’ve seen a fair few comments on my work when large Instagram accounts feature it with many saying it is ‘tacky’. I’m fine with this as it is supposed to be tacky and garish. I suppose I find it odd when people find my uterus and vulva pieces offensive, particularly women.’

CO: What do you think of Manchester’s art scene?

SJL: ‘There seems to be so many talented artists in our city but I think I might be a little out of the loop. Recently started to meet other artists at events, markets and meet ups which has been great. I would love to get more involved in the Manchester art scene when I have more time.’

CO: What has been the best exhibition you have visited and why?

SJL: ‘Each year I go to the Koestler Arts exhibition in partnership with London’s Southbank Centre. This exhibit show cases the art of people who are imprisoned/immigration detainees and also art produced by patients admitted to secure psychiatric services. The overall aim of the exhibit is to highlight the talent and potential of this population in a bid to challenge negative stereotypes which may be held by members of the public.’

CO: You have also started a new project, Atypical Kids, tell us about that.

SJL: ‘Atypical Kids is a side venture that is completely different to my usual style. Outside of my artwork I make fun designs for my niece and nephews and often get commission request for less risqué home and children’s decor pieces. These designs have recently been used as photography props for children’s flat lay enthusiasts and small businesses. I decided to make an Instagram account as a place to share these designs: @atypicalkids . This page is in its infancy, however me and my oldest friend Justine have plans to make a ‘feminist in training’ children’s decor range in the near future which will be available on this platform.’

CO: If you could live in any painting/artwork, which would it be?

SJL: ‘I’m just not cultured enough to answer this question profoundly. Perhaps a map of Tolkien’s Middle-earth.’

See more of Atypical Stitch’s work on her Instagram. You can contact her via her page to order a bespoke piece!

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