The Passyunk Avenue store Nice Things Handmade has an unconventional exhibition on display right now of handmade things: a series of textile pieces that depict vaginas, by South Philly artist Katie Nocella.

Nocella, who grew up in South Carolina before relocating to Philly last year, said that she was inspired to create the series when she realized, while in college, that she didn't know how to draw a vagina.

"I knew how to draw a penis," she said with a laugh. "Everyone does. But drawings of vaginas aren't as common, and I wanted to explore that."

Using a mirror and her self as a life-model, Nocella drew at home for 28 days in a row — the length of a menstrual cycle. She then converted the drawings into abstract designs and printed them onto napkins, embroidery hoops, and silk shirts, adding embroidery as a final touch. The pieces are all for sale at Nice Things Handmade, ranging from $20 to $120. The exhibit runs through Sept. 11.

A hand maid silk blouse from the “Debutante” show.
A hand maid silk blouse from the “Debutante” show.

"When I was making these pieces, I didn't tell anyone about them," Nocella said. "I wanted to make sure I knew exactly what they were before going to Elissa, the owner, about the idea. I asked her if the subject matter was OK and she went right along with it."

Nocella, who has been sewing since high school, studied anthropology and art at college. During her freshman year, an English class with a gender-studies theme sparked her interest in feminine roles. Nocella said her vagina series, called Debutante, is the most personal she's ever done. It's also her first art show.

Needless to say, there's been pushback.

"Some people look at the artwork and are empowered and excited by it," Nocella said. "Other people look at it and ask, 'Why is this here? This isn't art.'

"But I just want to be able to create the space to talk about it, like question them, 'Why don't you think this is art? Let's have a conversation.'"