From Angela Davis to Cardi B, this local uses an embroidery needle to pay homage to strong women

JayTee Barbour claims she sort of fell into embroidery while trying to create a low-cost wedding gift for a friend, then kept it up as a way to deal with the stress of fighting for sexual assault survivors. 

by Alex Galbraith
October 13, 2020

If there’s a single through-line to JayTee Barbour’s time in New Orleans, it’s putting the spotlight on other people. Whether working as a tour manager in the Community Records scene or as a social worker advocating for assault survivors and victims of sex trafficking, Barbour found a way to shift the focus toward people who need it. 

That continues with her artistic endeavors. Under the name Goblin Stitchworks, she has spent the last several years creating embroidered portraits of inspiring and undersung women throughout history, hoping that others will come to learn about their heroism through art.

Though you couldn’t tell from looking at her stunning black-and-white portraits of figures from Angela Davis to Bjork, Barbour doesn’t have a background in visual arts. She claims she sort of fell into embroidery while trying to create a low-cost wedding gift for a friend, then kept it up as a way to deal with the stress of fighting for sexual assault survivors. 

 

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“When I started working with sexual assault survivors, I needed a creative outlet,” she said in an interview with Very Local. “It really wasn’t something I thought anyone was going to give a s— about at all. I needed to do something that wasn’t advocacy work.I just started embroidering portraits of women who were really inspiring to me, in an effort to give me strength to do the work that I wanted to do.

 

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Barbour began seeking out women whose stories were little-known, people who advocated for causes that she found sympathetic and creating portraits of them as a way to honor their memories. Barbour, whose family is Mohawk Iroquois, found the story of South American Indigenous Rights activist Dolores Cacuango and set to stitching.   

“I was just looking for cool women that no one has ever heard of, so I Googled ‘bada– Indigenous women’  and I read about all these women until I found one that resonated with me,” she said.  “I wanted to learn about women who were active in causes that I really care about. Through doing this thing, I got to find out about all these historical, revolutionary women that no one knows about.” 

The learning process continued as Barbour’s artwork has gained more fans. She says that her own knowledge of revolutionary women has expanded in part from the commissions that people ask her to make. Though her portraiture abilities have grown and her reach has expanded, Barbour makes every attempt to keep the women she crafts out of cotton thread at the center of her project.    

 

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“I’m mixed, but I’m very white-presenting,” she explained. “And these women, 90% of them are not white. I don’t know what to do about profiting or benefiting from the very hard, very dangerous work that those women did. A number of those women were killed during their various revolutions… I have to stay really aware of the initial reason that I did it. I want to share the stories of these amazing people that have been glossed over.”

Goblin Stitchworks is on Instagram. Her work can be purchased from Slow Down NOLA.

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