Making Remotely: Sending Embroidery Kits Home and Teaching on Zoom

     In the fall my school was fully remote, but we had the opportunity to send supplies home before class started. I was ambitious, and I put together two different sets of making supplies as well as some printed materials for my 8th grade US history class.

The two making kits were embroidery and fabric collage. I will post later about the fabric collage.

The embroidery kits included a 6 inch embroidery hoop, a skein of black 6-thread embroidery floss, a needle (DMC size 5), and two pieces of fabric. In the late summer, when it still felt like I had all the time in the world to get ready for school, I decided to use up some of the fabric overflowing from my own collection and make drawstring bags to hold these supplies. I stayed up way too late making those bags the night before I had to drop them off at school for sorting. That was my own fault. While my timing was off, I was right that having the supplies in one bag was helpful for the project. They did not lose the supplies over the several weeks we worked on the embroidery. I also sent home some photocopied pages of simple embroidery designs from a Dover reprint book: Early American Embroidery Designs: An 1815 Manuscript Album with over 190 Patterns by Elizabeth M. Townshend (reprinted 1985).

I found some basic embroidery videos online from my favorite sewing instructor on YouTube, the Crafty Gemini and posted those for the students. (Seriously, she is a great teacher, and her step-by-step project instructions are fantastic for sewing, quilting, knitting, bag making, and just about anything else she puts her hand to).

Over zoom, I showed the students how to get the fabric into the hoop, and how to do it so the the fabric lined up with the bottom of the hoop so you can trace from a drawing or print out onto the fabric (hold it up to a window and let the sunlight act like a light table). This is a trick I learned from another great online instructor, Shannon Downey  (badass cross stitch might not be a name appropriate for school, but that is the way it goes sometimes).

The first assignment was just to get some stitches done. I asked them to submit a photo of the hoop set up with some stitches of any kind.  We worked on some other things for a while, and I could tell that some of the students were working on their own, since they asked me questions about how to do certain stitches, or what I recommended they try next. Others put the project away in the bag and forgot about it.

I talked about the importance of needlework in the lives of women as we read about Oney Judge, an enslaved woman owned by Martha Washington. When she runs away she makes a living as a needlewoman, and we talked about the history of cloth and sewing, the importance of making clothing in a pre-industrial and early industrial world, and how the skills were essential to many women being able to make their way in the world in the 18th and 19th centuries.

I had students pick quotations about the United States, history, reform, justice, or related themes in another lesson, and I brought that lesson together with embroidery to create the list of options for the embroidery assignment:

Instructions for all options:

  • Pick one of the three options listed here.
  • Your embroidery should cover (not solid, but filled, decorated, written on) more than half the size of the hoop. It may be larger if you want.
  • You may use any of the fabric (or some of your own), any of the floss, in as many or as few colors as you like.
  • Embroider your name or initials to sign your piece.
  • Turn in a good quality photograph and a one sentence explanation on schoology before winter break

Option 1: Finish the piece you started with your quotation or design

If you started with a quotation, add a small design from a part of the pattern from Early American Embroidery Designs (1815) by Elizabeth M. Townshend.

If you started with a design from a part of the pattern from Early American Embroidery Designs (1815) by Elizabeth M. Townshend, add at least 3 words or a full quotation.

You may add anything else you want to the finished piece. 

Option 2: A Modern Pattern with words and decoration

Do a google search for: free embroidery pattern printable and find one you like. Please pick one that has words and patterns or images, or add your own words to one that does not have any. Complete that pattern, or modify it to suit your taste. 

Option 3: Design your own idea and get it approved.

If you want to do something else, please pitch the idea to Dr. Pang.

We have not done any other embroidery assignments this year, but several of the students have kept going on their own. One mother contacted me to find out what supplies I should get for her daughter’s birthday, since she was embroidering all the time.

Looking back on the work, I think this project will stay in my class even when we are back to full time in person school. It unites the history of the craft, which is important in American history, women’s history, and economic history, (and really any period of history, those are just the ones that fit in my class) with practicing the craft. It is an opportunity for students to learn something that might be completely new to them, but is an ancient craft.