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Feminist Cross-Stitching in Middle School

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

At PHS, middle school students are given a choice of teacher-curated electives four times a year. The most recent slate of electives is here. We have wonderful opportunities for students to challenge themselves with new hobbies and deepen community-building experiences across grade levels (middle school electives are for all students 6th-8th grade, and are in mixed-grade groups)! One middle school elective this cycle is "Feminist Cross-Stitching".

For years, stories of social revolutions have been told with needle and thread. In the 1980s, a massive quilt adorned with the names of people who had died from AIDS was used to spotlight government inaction on the disease. In 2014, women got out their knitting needles and started the Yarn Missio n after the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Pink hats were fashioned into protest icons for the Women’s March on Washington in 2017 (Hauser, NYT)

In this elective, middle school students learn the craft of cross-stitch, matching wholesome patterns with statements and images that counter the domestic image of needlework. Students were inspired by an assembly last year at which our presenter discussed the pivotal role quilting played in the Underground Railroad. 

Stephanie Rohr, the author of the pattern book the group is using for the elective, says: "In the past, cross-stitch was viewed as 'women's work.' Learning to sew, knit, and embroidery was part of a girl's education in many parts of the world. Many young women used cross-stitch samplers to practice alphabets and simple motifs that they would later stitch onto clothing and household items. Needlework crafts were not only practical; they were also used as a form of protest or an expression of patriotism. Working in groups also allowed women to get together and discuss important topics, debate, and plan for change. During the American Revolution, women spun their own wool to avoid using boycotted British textiles for soldiers' uniforms. Antislavery sewing circles were common in the antebellum era in the US. This craftivist tradition continues into the present day..."