“I’d like to think that in this day and age, people aren’t so floored by a highly sexual woman.”
I don’t know about you, but when I think about embroidery, I envision intricately sewn scenes of flowers, countryside and quaint quotes, like, ‘Home is where the heart is.”
I’m reminded of sitting in my grandmother’s living room, watching her get lost in the art of decorating fabric with a needle and thread.
That was at least, until I came across across Emma Rose Laughlin, an embroidery artist creating works illustrating graphic porn scenes. It would be fair to say, Laughlin isn’t your average embroidery artist, which is why I was so intrigued when I first came across her unusual pieces, depicting women performing blow jobs and enthusiastically receiving cumshots.
Here’s the thing about them – though graphic, they’re strikingly beautiful, Laughlin expertly integrates the taboo with the traditional with each thread of her needle.
“I was trying to find a way to represent my views on female sexuality and how I felt it shouldn’t be so taboo, often times pairing sexual subject matter with materials that symbolize femininity like lace or glitter or flowers,” she explains.
“I found it was a struggle to express this balance through other mediums, but with embroidery, my message within my artwork became more clear, simply because needlework is inherently gentle and feminine.”
Laughlin only started stitching five years ago, inspired by her grandmother who had a collection of needlework supplies and handkerchiefs she had embroidered when she was younger.
But it wasn’t her first time working with erotic themes. She has previously depicted porn in her paintings, but when she taught herself embroidery she felt it was a better way to communicate her overall message of female empowerment since embroidery is so inherently feminine.
What I think is most interesting, is that the women she illustrates are not just fictional characters, but real-life porn stars the artist admires.
“Sasha Grey was my first inspiration,” Laughlin reveals.
“She got into porn because she wanted to broaden her personal sexual horizons while changing how the world perceives women in adult films. Some people can’t see a woman in pornography as anything more than an objectified individual, but there are many women in the industry who are proud to be doing what they’re doing.
“Despite this, they will be victims of the stigma connected with porn. As different as sex work is from sex in real-life relationships, they can both have similar effects on the women involved. A woman who has had multiple different partners is taught to feel ashamed while many men are not.”
This double standard is exactly what Laughlin is trying to diminish, and she is certainly not alone. Women are increasingly trying to reclaim words like ‘slut’, and reforming them in a positive light.
“Women in porn, or any other form of sex work, experience this same shame as well as social scrutiny. Sasha Grey shares my opinions on what it means to be a sexually empowered woman, that sexual exploration is totally normal and healthy and women shouldn’t feel ashamed of it. Eventually, I became more aware of other porn stars sharing this attitude, and I stitch them out of admiration,” Laughlin emphasizes.
While sex positivity has come a long way in the last couple of years, Laughlin has pinpointed certain sexual acts that still make some uneasy, and chooses to depict them as a way to compel her audience to confront their own sexuality.
“The notion of a woman enjoying the act of giving fellatio is still a tough pill to swallow for most people. Especially when facials or swallowing comes into play,” she says.
“I think that’s why I focus on it; I wish it were something people found less innately terrible.
“The act of sex, in essence, is meant to be a mutual pleasure, so if a consenting woman finds excitement in the act of swallowing or getting covered in their partner’s cum, they have every right to be proud of that.
“I completely understand why many people disagree, and I understand when the act happens in the context of certain pornographic films they could be catering to an audience that wants to see degradation and humiliation, but I always found the role of the women in most acts of fellatio is one of power.
“She’s usually in control of the pleasure the man is feeling, and I think that’s super sexy,” Laughlin explains.
Because Laughlin believes a woman is the most dominant person in the act of fellatio, she specifically chooses not to depict men in her work. This intentionally allows the viewer to focus on the woman and the femininity within the work.
While she has multiple works spread across her Instagram page, a single piece can take anywhere between one and three months to finish. The process begins with seeking out an image of an inspirational porn star, before moving on to finding a vintage lace doily or handkerchief which will suit the image compositionally. And then the actual stitching of the image can take hours on end.
But despite the intense effort put into each work, Laughlin believes it’s all worth it.
“It makes me feel motivated, and it challenges me,” she explains.
“The subject matter isn’t for everyone, but it represents something that matters a lot to me, so I feel compelled to make it despite what people think.
“Not to mention the medium of embroidery is also very challenging, as stitching is still fairly new to me. The challenge makes me excited to make art in a way painting never did.”
And she isn’t just creating these for personal interest or gain, she truly hopes to make a positive difference for women struggling with their own sexuality.
“There are definitely a lot of people who think what I do is both a bad example of feminism and a bad example of art, but that’s not what I believe. I hope to empower women who might feel ashamed of their sexuality by showing them an example of a woman who isn’t,” she says.
“I make my work in an effort to praise the sex workers I admire, and I hope to encourage other people to see them in a new light.”
Our editor Nadia interviews a sex worker about how, and why, she got into the business of selling sex…
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Comment: Do you think Emma Rose Laughlin’s work is empowering to women?