You might not realize how much you covet intricate embroidery depicting scenes of graveyards, spiritualist-era séances, and the occasional Black Phillip until you see the work of Beth Wilkes, a.k.a. Séance Stitches. Wilkes didn’t even start doing embroidery until relatively recently, though she studied costume design at university and she’s always made her own clothes. When Covid shut down the costume industry just after she graduated, she decided to start selling her embroidered pieces, inspired by folklore, witchcraft, and Victorian death culture, as a way of making money temporarily. She liked it so much—and became so popular—that she decided to make it her full-time thing. Now you can buy original hoop art as well as postcards and spooky Christmas ornaments in her shop on Etsy.
Wilkes says she’s naturally drawn to the darker things in life. “Growing up as a home-schooled only child living in a converted chapel in a remote village in the English countryside definitely had a huge impact on me,” she says—a sentence that has us swooning with jealousy. She spent most of her childhood playing in the woods, hunting for fairies, and reading age-inappropriate horror novels, not to mention being raised by a bevy of spiritualism-loving ladies, including her mother who grew up attending séances with Wilkes’s eccentric great grandmother. Stories of these ghostly affairs made their way into Wilkes’s séance embroidery, which features “ectoplasm” she conjures using mixed media like original antique photographs and beading.
Wilkes’s own style of magic is a blend of traditional and folk practices. What is the allure of witches to her? “In a time when women’s rights and the rights of other marginalized people are being eroded,” she says, “I think the archetype of the witch has more cultural importance than ever. Witches are the ultimate underdog, a person who’s other but takes that vulnerability and flips it on its head.” These are the women and cunning folk who provided the support that people couldn’t get anywhere else within their communities—healing, comfort, and advice. “The stereotypical storybook or mythological wicked witch is also pretty attractive right now,” she says. “A feral, powerful woman who takes charge in a society that expects women to be small, submissive, and weak? Yes, please!”