Reaching Kids with Embroidery

Demonstrating embroidery at the Alaska State Fair

I share embroidery with a family at the Alaska State Fair while Karen and Aunt Sandy demonstrate needlepoint and crochet.

I received a question through The Needlework Nutshell asking how we can reach kids with embroidery. This is a big question with many answers, and I hope to provide several. This is the first.

Around Labor Day this year, Arctic Needle Karen, Aunt Sandy, and I were thrilled to demonstrate cross stitch, needlepoint, and crochet at the Alaska State Fair. That means we sat in the Handwork & Needlework area, stitched, and chatted with passersby. A wonderful way to spend a day!

Invite Interaction

All items entered in the Fair are displayed out of reach behind a fence, but we brought tables and set out samples of our own work that people could examine closely. I encouraged anyone who stopped to actually touch the items on my table, pick them up, turn them over, try them on…interact with them. I had unfinished items showing the back sides and inner workings as well as completed items.

I tried to engage anyone who expressed the least bit of interest. I looked up often, smiled, and caught the eyes of anyone willing to look at me. I said “hi,” and if they slowed or approached, I asked if they were a needleworker. If the person wasn’t, I asked if they knew any needleworkers, and the answer was always “yes.” We’re everywhere! Chatting ensued.

If parents asked questions or sparked discussion, I reached out to the kids, too. Perhaps especially, because I’m naturally drawn to young people. Some were curious, interested in looking and touching but some were not.

Engaging with the Embroidery Content

Read ambigram cross stitch bookmark - Funk & Weber DesignsTo pull people in, kids or adults, I routinely held up my Read Ambigram bookmark and asked, “What does this say?”

They’d look and answer “Read.”

I’d turn the bookmark upside down and ask, “What does this say?”

After a moment and maybe a smile or puzzled look, they’d answer, “Read.”

I turned the bookmark over one more time if necessary to make the point, and then I’d hand it to the reader for a closer look. It worked like a charm to draw onlookers in.

Cross stitch color illusion - Funk & Weber Designs

The words “I AM” and “HERE” are all stitched in the same color floss. The back side proves it.

I’d follow that up with a second unfinished would-be bookmark that contains a “same color” illusion similar to the Needle/Thread block in the Do You See What I See? pattern. The words are stitched in one color, but they look so different it’s hard to believe. Having the piece unfinished was nice: It allowed people to see the back side, proof that a single color of fiber was used.

Puzzle-y cross stitch pattern - Funk & Weber Designs

The front of the bookmark asks “Got questions?” Reading the response on the back is tricky!

Visitors were well-entertained by now, but I kept going for a complete one-two-three punch and presented yet another puzzle-y bookmark (or fob—you know these don’t have to be bookmarks, right?) The front of this one asks, “Got questions?” and the back has a response that requires some manipulation to read. I’d give them some time to figure it out before offering hints.

Use a Hook to Grab Attention

The playful, interactive nature of these pieces served to get the attention of casual, even (dare I say it?) disinterested visitors. In the writing world, we’d call this the “hook.” It’s what grabs attention immediately and makes people want to look more closely. A question, a puzzle, a contrast, something unexpected: These things can draw people into a piece of embroidery, increase interest and engagement, and, perhaps, motivate a person to pick up needle and thread and take them for a spin.

This approach worked as well with adults as kids. The official State Fair photographer wandered into our building during a lull in the action. He looked around but showed no interest in taking pictures. Maybe he’d taken pictures of the Handwork and Needlework Department already; maybe he simply wasn’t interested. I mean, there’s no giant cabbage here.

I opened a conversation and invited him to play my games with me. “What’s this say?” I caught him with my embroidery hooks and reeled him in. We went through the whole routine and he was thoroughly engaged. Before he left, he found something interesting in embroidery to photograph.

If you want to reach kids with embroidery, one way is to choose a subject that hooks them. Challenge them. Surprise them. Puzzle them. If you can get them excited about cool content, you just might get them excited to stitch that content.

Do you have any embroidery that kids have found interesting and exciting? Send pictures, please! (Psst…send them to mail {AT} funkandweber {DOT} com.)

4 Responses to “Reaching Kids with Embroidery”

  1. Jackie Soliongco

    I have been stitching since 1984. It has been theraphy, joy in a finished project. I get the most pleasure in teaching young people to stitch. When my youngest son was 5 he asked me if he could do what I was doing. I got him a bowl of thread, a small book with simple designs and I tacked 14 ct aida on stretcher bars. He picked out what he wanted to do. I had him stitch so it was 7ct. I showed him what to do and he went to town. He did a great job. Today he is 24 and would touch a needle or fabric. I can’t even get him to stitch his initials on it. I am going to frame it. I was and am so proud of him.
    Jackie, Sidney’s Mom

    October 31, 2012 @ 8:42 am
  2. Jen

    We need to introduce Sidney to other manbroiderers, like Mr. X-Stitch.

    Have you asked him why he refuses to pick up a needle and thread? Is it a gender thing? Something else?

    Both my nephews learned to stitch and completed a tag from our Beach Tags pattern. They did well and enjoyed it, but it’s not something either of them was interested in continuing. Even so, they have a skill that may serve them well in the future.

    Mike is very willing to sew on the sewing machine, and I don’t think he has gender issues with embroidery; he simply has no interest in using a needle and thread. I think it’s too delicate for his fingers.

    He would sew button-down shirts for himself on the machine (and do a magnificent job, too), but then they would sit, sit, and sit until I finally sewed buttons on them.

    And then I showed him how to put buttons on using the sewing machine. He’s perfectly happy to sew buttons on now!

    October 31, 2012 @ 4:29 pm
  3. Vicki

    We have a table at our fair that we stock in Textiles with people doing all types of crafts…It is always a big hit and draws people in… I love your bookmark idea. I think I will have to try something like that. I may even approach our library about teaching a class and see what happens. I have taught other types of classes years ago at the library…you have inspired me to think about doing this again!! Thanks!!!

    November 5, 2012 @ 1:21 pm
  4. Jen

    Yay, Vicki!

    If you teach a bookmark-stitching class at your library, I will provide a pattern and The Gentle Art will probably donate fiber. This is what we do for the Stitching for Literacy program. The Gentle Art is always on board this outreach program.

    I don’t have a steady supplier of fabric, but I’m sure we can come up with some for you if you need it. And perhaps felt for backing. Weeks Dye Works has been generous in the past.

    I hope you will do this, and I’ll be happy to help in any way I can. Be in touch, okay? mail {AT} funkandweber {DOT} com

    November 5, 2012 @ 8:26 pm

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