by Lily “Billy” Olson
Please note that the artist uses he/him and they/them pronouns.
“Sailor’s Hitch (and other knots)” is a work I began as an abstract concept meant to document my difficulties with keeping diaries throughout my life. I always felt emotions in extremes in my youth and would frequently become upset with my inability to describe them with words.
The spiral pictured below was the first flag of the banner I embroidered. I have been obsessively drawing the shape as of late when I feel I need something to do with my hands. My usual poison for this compulsion is stars but something about the swooping circular motion of the spiral has been a comfort to me recently. The blue cloth was stitched down with baby blue thread and then I cut around the embroidered spiral to get the final shape. The border is excess yarn gifted to me by my dear friend from a previous installation of their’s that I couched into the flag with the same baby blue thread.
The flag below is inspired by a self portrait I did two years ago. The original illustration was an ode to my dad, Faja as I call him, and the ritual we had of visiting the moon when I was a young child. I would sit on his shoulders and we would walk around the block staring up at Luna through the tall pine trees that lined our yard. I wanted a translation of the original piece into written word that focused on my relationship with my dad for the banner.
The next flag I began to sew features a polaroid photo of my brother and I in a tree. I very impressively climbed this tree while tipsy (legally I am 21 do not fret SLC administration) and our friend snapped this picture of the two of us. My brother, Cooper, has always been my closest friend and support system. Even feet off the ground in a slightly inebriated state he would keep me from falling.
After these two flags, it became clear to me that the theme of my piece would be the bonds I have with the men in my life and how they have shaped me. I have had a long and complex relationship with men and masculinity. In my elementary and middle school years I was ruthlessly bullied by boys and told to take their cruelty as a compliment because it was clear they had crushes on me. In high school, I managed to have deep and personal friendships with men around me only to lose many of them for fear of my own safety when they revealed themselves to be sexual predators. In spite of the PTSD from my many years of “boy troubles” I have in this new chapter of my life found loving and kind men that I call my friends and family. They embrace and encourage my expressions of masculinity and my ever evolving gender identity. I feel loved and respected and seen by these sweet sweet boys and I wanted to immortalize this feeling of comfort in this piece.
The color palette used for the piece is very intentionally borrowing from the transgender pride flag (which for anyone unfamiliar is a pink, white and blue stripe). I limited the use of pink to the yarn but worked with three shades of blue. I wanted to use an array of blues to express the variations in how I experience and express masculinity and the solid pink to represent my femininity and how it allows me the freedom in my life to move so fluidly in my gender. The style of stitching I used in my font work and otherwise is something near a backstitch. I never formally learned how to embroider but my mom taught me how to mend my clothing and I began my guesswork from there. I enjoy the more tactical approach to sewing which in the traditional eye is “women’s work”. I wanted to express in this piece the fluidity of my gender and my love for the models of masculinity in my life. In various stages of critique I workshopped the color scheme and visual aspects of the piece outside of the looming concept of gender to make sure that the piece would still translate well as a diary without intimate personal knowledge of my life. Most importantly, I wanted to make sure it looked good!