This isn’t your great-grandmother’s cross-stitch—or crewelwork, or bargello, or other traditional embroidery. That’s not because of technique; it’s because of content.

“We’re always looking for a contemporary or topical edge to what we publish in our craft line, because our customers respond to those,” says Peter Norton, v-p and publisher of Printers Row Publishing Group, whose Thunder Bay imprint is releasing Zombie Cross-Stitch in August.

Whether they take as their subject brain-noshing ghouls, R-rated aphorisms, or pioneering female role models, new needlecraft books are anything but fusty.

At Lark Crafts, needlework titles with what assistant editor Elysia Liang says are “feminist-oriented and empowering” themes put their message right in the title.

In September’s Feminist Felties, Missy Covington, who sells patterns for felt crafts through her Etsy store CraftSubversive, provides instructions for 21 projects, including an Ada Lovelace egg cozy and a Rosie the Riveter coin purse.

Liang describes the technique as relatively easy and beginner-appropriate: cutting and gluing pieces of felt together, and embellishing with stitching and embroidery. “That’s part of the charm of these crafts,” she says. “They look distinctly homemade and personal.”

Feminist Cross-Stitch by Stephanie Rohr (Lark Crafts, Feb. 2019) focuses on a pastime that “was traditionally considered ‘women’s work,’ ” says Wendy Williams, editor at Lark. “Using it to express protest opinions is definitely subversive.” Rohr, whose stitches have been featured in BuzzFeed, Town Country, and Comedy Central’s Key Peele, includes a handful of projects with NSFW phrases, e.g. “Fuck Your Internalized Misogyny,” and also reaches back to the classics, such as the Shakespearean “Though She Be but Little, She Is Fierce.”

At Running Press, Anna Fleiss and Lauren Mancuso follow up 2017’s Feminist Icon Cross-Stitch with Women Who Rock Cross-Stitch, pubbing in October. The 20 patterns render portraits of musicians and vocalists including Aretha Franklin, Lauryn Hill, Joni Mitchell, and Amy Winehouse, alongside mini bios of each. The authors also include 10 song titles and phrases to cross-stitch, among them “riot grrrl” and “run the world.”

Libby Moore is another crafter who, in her words, creates “modern and relevant designs” using the “timeless art form” of cross-stitch. In Thread Folk (Paige Tate Co., Mar. 2019), she shares 15 patterns with a contemporary vibe—for instance, a Kinfolk-esque image of a gardener holding a giant flower obscuring her face. The book takes its title from the name of Moore’s Etsy shop and Instagram account, which has 35,000 followers.

Alicia Burstein, a lifelong crafter who has self-published several coloring books, was picked up by CT’s Stash imprint for 10 Easy Stitches (Feb. 2019). While the stitches are straightforward, she says, her embroidery patterns range from simple to very difficult, and offer ideas for working with materials including leather, denim, and canvas. Motifs include dinosaurs, skeletal hands, and brains.

In Stitchcraft (Blue Star, Feb. 2019), Gayla Partridge, who runs the 666 Photography studio in Austin, Tex., showcases her latest artistic passion: embroidery. Dia de los Muertos–inspired portraits and flower-bedecked pinup queens—themes that recur in her portrait photography, too—are presented on striking black backgrounds and in detailed close-ups.

Just as Partridge pushes the limits of embroidery-appropriate subjects with anatomical designs of, for instance, a tooth and a kidney, Zombie Cross-Stitch by Erika Kern and Kristy Kizzee (Thunder Bay, Aug.) focuses on the bloodshot eyeballs of the undead—as well as their hands and, in more than one chapter, “braaaiiins.” One section, titled “It’s After Midnight,” pays homage to Michael Jackson’s Thriller. The kit includes sufficient equipment and materials to complete two projects.

Another blood-and-guts title, Twisted Stitches by Phil Davison (Search, Sept.), also tackles zombies, plus skulls, insects, and stab wounds, for starters. His 30 cross-stitch and embroidery designs adorn pillows, a barbecue apron, and other accessories. Davison, a couture pattern cutter in the U.K., launched his Urban Cross Stitch brand of kits and accessories in 2008, after learning the craft from a family friend in Arkansas and wedding the technique with his passion for street art.

With Improper Cross-Stitch (Griffin, Aug.), Haley Pierson-Cox, who blogs at Red-Handled Scissors, offers 35 designs that look dainty but project a modern attitude. A pattern that reads “squad goals” features monochromatic silhouettes and is captioned “Brontë/Austen/Dickinson/Plath”; another reads “zero fucks given.” Pierson-Cox, who calls herself a “swearing enthusiast,” sees a strong connection between her passions for stitchery projects and profanities, one that may resonate with other modern crafters. “Combining them was natural for me,” she says. “Like swearing, needlecraft is fun and stress-relieving.”■