Feminist embroidery

Hailing from North London, Hannah Hill is Hanecdote – a hand-embroider, feminist and fine-art student taking on the internet, one patch at a time. Challenging the traditionally ‘feminine’ view of embroidery,

Hanecdote stitches messages about mental health, gender and race, encouraging us to question stereotypes in society, and hierarchy in the art world.

By Nickie Shobeiry

You started Hanecdote when you were only 17. In what way has it evolved since?

Back then I was making screen printed T-shirts inspired by hip-hop songs. Over the years, it became more of a handmade patch business. It was rewarding for a while – making colourful patches representing hobbies, food and mental health-related messages. I guess Hanecdote has turned into an alias of sorts, and while I’ve been studying, my big cartel shop has been sporadically selling original embroideries and drawings. 

Your grandparents were architects, and your mother was very creative, also, with mosaics and stained glass. How would you say being raised in such a creative environment has affected your art today?

I’ve always been encouraged to be creative, so having that support growing up probably instilled a sense of security within me, meaning I could learn and develop without the pressure to be more academic. My parents value creativity just as much as being book smart; I’m grateful to have their support fully. I think because I struggled with depression so badly as a teenager, my parents could see that art made me happy, and chose to encourage me. 

Your embroidery covers subjects from racism to feminism, and also mental health, which you covered beautifully in your pieces celebrating the everyday victories of people struggling with mental health. Would you say artists have a duty to cover such subjects? What is the role of art in society?

I don’t think every artist has a duty to make art about those topics, although I am drawn to art which stands for something. That’s probably why I use my platform and creative expression to make a stand about the issues I believe are important. 

Your use of embroidery challenges the traditional, ‘dainty’ view of embroidery. In what way does this engage with the politics of feminism? Would you call yourself a political artist?

I think because of the stereotypes associated with embroidery, it makes it such an amazing medium to express socio-political messages. It has a history of being left out of the art world due to associations with class and gender, so what better way to reclaim it and change those associations? I love when textiles are used in interesting way, outside of the box. 

You once created a ten-page textiles book on anatomy. What is your favourite piece from your own collection?

That’s such a hard question because so many are so close to my heart for various reasons. Probably the piece I made for Tate about the future of art, which included technology, art history references reimagined, protest and activism, music, accessibility and representation for people of colour, as well as different classes and genders. I also love my London/Grime inspired piece, because it is the total opposite of what you would assume about stitching. I’m also passionate about London and UK music, so it’s an ode to those things.

You’ve mentioned in the past that you don’t enjoy the business side of art. What is it about business that turns you off?

What advice do you have for other artists also struggling with the same sentiment? I just don’t think I’m naturally business minded; it’s all been a process of learning what works and what doesn’t. I’m not very good with numbers, and mental illness makes time management and organisation difficult sometimes. As for advice, I think building up a community online has been very helpful and supportive with both art and business, so make connections! If there are people around you who can help you achieve your vision, but are better with maths and business, ask for help.

Your embroidered Arthur meme took the internet by storm. What was the inspiration behind it?

I saw an illustrated version by @Adamtots which made me think I could do an embroidered version. I wanted it to be about the exclusion of textiles in Western Art History, because that’s what my dissertation was about. Unfortunately, you’ve had first hand-experience of fashion corporations stealing the designs of artists.


What do you think can be done to prevent this? Has it ever deterred you from sharing your work online?

I was 18 the first time this happened to me, and at that time I felt extremely hopeless and like, what’s the point in making and sharing art if big companies can blatantly steal from you? Usually no justice is served because they have huge budget for their legal departments. However, this is where the online community helps: any time I have been made aware of plagiarism, I’ve taken to social media to kick up a fuss. The only advice I have is to maybe watermark your work, or keep a clear record of your design process to prove you are the creator. And what’s next for Hanecdote? Hopefully I can make art forever, and share that with people, whether that’s through original embroideries, or a wider range of products in my online shop. I want to change the art world and make it more accessible and inclusive because art is for everyone!

Berlin, Bears and Refugees