“That’s the wrong kind of kettle.”

“No accent wall?”

“Don’t rip out the lawn, it’s nature!”

The first time an acquaintance entered the house I share with my partner, she criticized the home in these three ways. She didn’t like the color we’d painted the downstairs walls. She disapproved of the way I boiled water for tea. She had a lot to say about our plans to replace the lawn with a rock garden. (We’re not lawn people.) She seemed comfortable voicing these opinions, though they were not asked for.

These observations stung, and have stayed with me for months after they were spoken. I’ve been working to figure out why I was so unsettled. Is insulting the house the same as insulting me? If so, what would that mean for me as a woman? I am uncomfortable identifying with words like “homemaking,” or “the domestic sphere.” I don’t think about those phrases nearly as much as I have mulled over this one guest’s use of “Wrong,” “No,” and “Don’t.” I probably don’t like what that says about me either.

For this project I embroidered paper napkins, paper plates, party hats, doilies, and more. You’re not “supposed” to stitch on these things. And the messages aren’t celebratory.

Embodying these words through party favors brought them into a physical space, when before they’d just lived in my head. Once I started stitching, I kept finding objects that seemed to speak to this series–an invoice for “Cry Baby” fragrance, or a card from a party game called Taboo where the players had to arrive at the idea of an ultimatum. These objects found their way into the party as well.

Come to my pity party, where I set the table with just a few of the phrases I obsess over. They sting a lot less now that they exist outside my mind. (But they still hurt.) It’s probably pretty petty to keep them around. Come anyway, I baked a cake.