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Embroidery: the preeminence of craft during COVID

I picked up an embroidery hoop for the first-time in my quarantined free time last spring. Upon returning to campus, I realized that I was in quite good company as a newly fledged embroiderer. Embroidery requires very few supplies. With a hoop, a needle, several thread colors, an article of clothing or fabric, and a bit of creative inspiration, an embroider is well on their way to a finished product. Embroidery projects can be quick several minute affairs or elaborate weeks long projects.

Emma Paltrow and a wall hanging she embroidered.

Carleton College has provided several venues for students to gain access to embroidery materials. The makerspace keeps a bin stocked with all essential embroidery materials. Ruken Bastimer (‘22), SAO’s Art Program Assistant, led the DENIMbroidery workshop fall term with resounding success. Thinking around 15-20 students would register, Ruken was shocked when, “80 plus people signed up for our event, within the span of two days.” A novice embroiderer herself, Ruken picked up an embroidery hoop for the first time and, “signed up for my own event and took a hoop into my own hands for the very first time.” As a pastime activity, Ruken says, “it’s very soothing but very difficult to control that needle!”. 

SAO’s spread of supplies for the DENIMbroidery workshop.
Photo courtesy of Ruken Bastimar.

Some highlights from the DENIMbroidery contest.

Photo submissions by Ruken Bastimar (left), Zach Lewis (middle) & Nell Schafer (right).

Embroidery is not only a pleasant way to pass time but also a way of putting messages and imagery of personal meaning on clothing. I taught a Fashion, Media, and Self-expression class for middle schoolers this summer and we used embroidery to affix messages and motifs of protest and self-expression to old items of clothing. With sustainability-oriented fashion in mind, embroidery allows people to give new life and purpose to clothing they otherwise might discard.

Embroidery supplies can be used to affix felt letters and fabric patched to clothing. Maanya Goenka in Isaac Crown Manesis’s sweatshirt.

Repair and embroidery are two closely related activities, both requiring a needle and some thread in their simplest forms; both allow people to transform items that otherwise might end up in a landfill into cared for, creatively modified articles. In combating fast fashion, the most potent act a single person can do is simply keep their clothing for longer. Perhaps in years to come embroidered clothing will be a softer remnant of a time (hopefully) long passed. Quarantine-induced embroidery (and diy craft) may serve as a marker of this current period of confinement, a melancholic but warm reminder of time spent inside in contemplation. 

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