He’s a 42-year-old, tattooed British “manbroiderer,” who answers to the title of “Kingpin of Contemporary Embroidery.” In the 12 years since Jamie Chalmers picked up his first embroidery kit, he’s carved out an international reputation as a rebel and creative leader in the world of needlecraft – a field once considered the sole domain of women.
He bought his first cross stitch kit at a U.K. haberdashery before going on vacation. The novelty of it appealed to him. “People wouldn’t expect to see a man doing embroidery on a plane,” says Chalmers. However, he was surprised to discover how much he enjoyed the simple, repetitive rhythm of the stitches and the creative outlet it afforded.
Chalmers quickly found that the biggest obstacle to his continued enjoyment of stitching was the total lack of patterns that interested him or reflected his taste. So in 2008 he launched Mr. X Stitch (www.mrxstitch.com) to find and feature other crafters with the same interests and challenges.
A software tool called “PCStitch” enabled him to turn graffiti patterns into embroidery patterns, which was more in keeping with his artistic bent. “The world of embroidery is ubiquitous and diverse,” in terms of both people and types of art, says Chalmers. His site was revolutionary and appealed to a non-traditional, more hip population of stitchers. As his blog evolved, it gained momentum and people started contacting him to share their work.
“I was a bloke doing it which set me apart, and I featured rude, funny and edgy content,” he says. “As long as something has merit, it pushes a boundary and creates a space,” and it can find a home on his website, says Chalmers. That made the difference. “If someone did some dark, moody work, we could feature it, because we had set that precedent.”
Today, Mr. X Stitch has attracted over 120,000 unique visitors from 199 countries around the globe and over 27,000 Instagram followers, in addition to Chalmers’ Facebook and Pinterest fans. Not bad for a bloke with no art or needlework background, who says he “casually meandered into this world.”
His goal? “To change the way the world thinks about embroidery.” He recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to fund his upcoming, 2x/year magazine, X Stitch, which he says will “turn the traditional cross stitch magazine on its head.” His objective was to raise 6,000 British pounds (about $8,000) in 30 days – he netted that in four, and blew through his initial goal, ultimately raising over 14,000 pounds ($18,000).
The first issue, with the theme “Revolution” will publish this month, and he hopes to have a second out in November. Chalmers also has a book, The Mr. X Stitch Guide to Cross Stitch, coming out in August.
He also recently produced a line of glow-in-the-dark designs called Glow-in-the-D’Architecture for DMC, a leading thread company. His designs depict some of the world’s most beloved buildings and skylines that are colorful by day and glow at night.
If your mental image of Chalmers so far is of a loner with a large ego, prepare to have your mind changed. Last year, he traveled to a Syrian refugee camp in Lebanon to teach the art of cross stitch as a way for the refugees to earn a little money and to help take their minds off the horrors they had experienced. He created a small cross stitch square pattern and invited his global audience to stitch and submit their own versions. Ultimately the effort led to the creation of a wall hanging made from the finished pieces. It was then sent back to Lebanon as a message of support. “It’s amazing to think that I’ve had the chance to visit places like Lebanon and be involved in heartfelt craftivism projects like this, all from a passion for cross stitch,” says Chalmers.
Chalmers’ hero fittingly is Rosie Grier, the former LA Rams football player who wrote a book in the 1970s called Needlepoint for Men. “He was a positive role model for the idea of men doing embroidery,” says Chalmers, adding, “Don’t get hung up on gender if you love something.”
Jamie Chalmers' designs include Glow-in-the-D'Architecture.