Cross-Stitching with 85 Seventh Graders

I asked Anita, the lovely teacher who taught her art students how to cross-stitch, to write a little something about how she became inspired to do the project with her classes. Below is her account of the project. I hope you enjoy it!

I remember going to Tribeca late last summer to see a group show. Iviva and Jon collaborated on an embroidered graffiti piece that I couldn’t wait to see (FiberGraf). What a pleasure. Jon and Iviva’s piece was awesome, and Jen’s brochure of pleasantries blew me away.

Our 7th grade Humanities teacher approached me at some point about collaborating on some lessons, Colonial American ART. I went to the American Folk Art Museum [to view the] Women Only: Folk Art by Female Hands [exhibit] to see what I could learn. Bingo! Embroidery (and cross stitching) was used during colonial times up until about 1900 to educate girls to read, write, learn lessons and manners, etc. At some point, I visited the Florence Griswold Museum in Old Lyme, CT to see With Needle and Brush: Schoolgirl Embroidery from the Connecticut River Valley. Incredible!

I envisioned our project but had no idea how to cross stitch. As a tinkerer, I tried to learn on my own. When I brought my meager attempts to Fiber Notions, a nearby shop, Kat politely told me I was doing it wrong and then coached me on how to do it correctly. I fell in love with the materials and stitching.

Rocky start. Exploration. The seventh graders experimented with various materials for stitching (screen, tape, wire, yarn, etc.). It was pretty raw and they struggled. I thought this would help teach the students to respect the materials/process as we moved through the project.

PROJECT CHALLENGE: Cross stitch a lesson you are currently trying to learn onto cotton Aida cloth. Students were free to choose their message, font, colors, etc. Extra creativity points would be given to those who worked in a foreign language. Community points went to students who helped others. Ultimately, we awarded craftsmanship points to those whose back was neatly stitched (but this was not an initial focus). The project would require organization, persistence, tons of handwork, math and language skills, and still integrate with the Humanities curriculum.

Selecting a meaningful lesson was difficult for many of the students. I chose the message “Wear Helmet” because at the time I wasn’t very good about wearing my bike helmet for safety. I fell off a foot scooter last summer going down a fairly large hill. My head hit the pavement and I was cut up all over. I think the students paid attention to me at this point because they were staring at a three-inch scar on my left shoulder from the fall. I distributed Jen’s brochure. The response was WOW. Eventually nearly every one selected a great, personal message.

At this point, most of the students were addicted to cross stitching. Many were coming to the studio on the hour for more thread. Some who had never excelled in ART were enjoying themselves. Others struggled. We would tear out their work and begin again. The foreign language element really made the project more interesting and, in some cases, far more difficult. Spanish was fine. French, Gaelic, and Italian were just a matter of getting the text proofed and then selecting a font before one began stitching.

But Arabic, Korean, Mandarin; this was another matter. First we had to be sure the translation was correct. Then we printed out the characters and translated them onto graph paper to determine the stitches. This was crazy—and my favorite part!! Lucara challenged me to do my “Wear Helmet” in Mandarin. I abandoned my English and began again. It took persistence but I too was addicted. Olivia suggested I make a First Aid Kit with my cross stitch. Extra creativity points for her!

Kids would send their work with questions to me during study hall—through another student. This was fine for the most part, unless you were Aishah. She would send me her cloth (with her message in Arabic) and a note, “I need help.” Well I don’t know Arabic and without a pattern—or Aishah—I could not help. She laughed when I explained this to her. After we ripped her work out for the third time, I sent Jen an email explaining how hard Aishah was trying. Jen wrote back. I read the reply to the class and watched Aishah. In that moment, I think she learned the power of ART. Here she was inspiring someone she didn’t even know through her artwork, just as Jen’s work had inspired me. It was a memorable day.

We worked and worked. Slowly but surely, the students began to absorb the messages they were stitching. Many of the boys did incredible pieces—and the backs of their work are meticulous! Two girls squabbled regularly in class. One cross stitched “I’m Sorry,” and they would toss it back and forth at each other during class. I felt like I was in a movie.

There are a million stories in these projects just as in every great work of ART. I hope viewers enjoy these pieces—maybe half as much as we do!!

Artist in Residence
Brooklyn school [School name omitted for student privacy]


Thank you so much for writing this great account of the project Anita! Tomorrow, the first of 19 posts chalk-full of amazing students’ creations!


On another note: Kickstarter reached it’s goal today!!! We are over the $300 mark, with another 54 days to go! Anyone can still back the project and receive a reward, so please do visit the site here, and continue spreading the word! As always, thank you!

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