By Sue Fenwick
Back in the day, when a woman’s worth was measured by her ability to stitch and mend and sew, needlework was a compulsory part of every girls’ education.
We see samplers from 200 years ago by girls as young as 6 years old, and we marvel at their proficiency with the needle and thread. Today, we rarely see needlework completed by little girls. Cross stitch and the needle arts have become a leisure activity for women.
Amy Morrow of Ward, Arkansas, a parent teacher with the Cabot Christian Home School Co-op, is taking steps to change that. Amy is teaching children to cross stitch.
Amy and her husband, Michael, have three children, Olivia, 11; Mackenzie, 9; and Isaac, 5. All three are home-schooled.
“We are part of the Cabot Christian Home School Co-op,” Amy said. “It is a large co-op, so our children can have class time with other children. So with other home-school families, we get together and the moms and dads all pitch in and teach classes. The kids get exposed to all different sorts of things.”
Amy has been stitching for as long as she can remember, probably 25 years. Her mother, who works at Leisure Arts in Maumelle, Arkansas, taught her to cross stitch. In high school and college, Amy was a pattern tester for Leisure Arts.
Amy is an accomplished, long-standing cross stitcher with years of experience, so it makes sense that she would teach others. The great thing about Amy’s class, though, is that all of her students are children. Amy wanted to bring cross stitch to as many kids as she possibly could.
“It’s exciting to see their little faces light up when they get it,” she said. “I had quite a few kids take the class, which thrilled me. To see them enjoy it was great.”
Because an hour a week isn’t enough time to get a whole lot done, the kids took their projects home with these instructions: “If you get a knot, or get stuck or confused, stop and bring it back on Monday and we will work on it in class.”
“They did fantastic and were very motivated to keep going,” Amy said. “It was wonderful.”
She had a beginning and an intermediate class. One student had done needlework before.
For the beginning class, she used a freebie pattern, a simple birdhouse with vines around the edge, from Wichelt Imports Inc. that she had in her files. The pattern had just a few color changes, so it was easier for the students. As an incentive, the local needlework shop gave a charm embellishment for every finished project.
Amy had 16 children in the six-week session. One has ventured into design and charting.
“She had done needlework before, and she would show me her graph paper at class,” she said. “She would design her own charts during the week and bring me the things she had worked on that she had designed herself. That was exciting to see.”
Three girls finished their birdhouses, and several others are almost finished. Overall, the responses were very positive.
“Once I got started and got used to it, it was easy,” one student said.
“Cross stitching is awesome!” another said.
The one boy in the classes was not quite sure he liked it.
“I kinda like it, I kinda don’t,” he said. “I’m not sure I’ll ever do it again.”
His older sister was in the older kids’ class and liked it, so he thought he would try it.
“I thought that was absolutely fantastic that he tried it,” Amy said.
She will teach a “History of Antique Samplers” class in January. She wants her students to hear about 6-year-olds who stitched samplers.
“Kids today don’t have to sew their own clothes or darn their stockings,” she said. “Just threading a needle is a new experience for modern girls and boys, so those kinds of things are frustrating to kids when they are trying to learn cross stitch. I also want them to learn what it was about.
“The old samplers all have such history behind them, and I want to pass that on to the children.”
It’s wonderful to see the smiling faces of these children and to see how proud they are of their beautiful needlework. If we want the needlework industry to flourish, we should all teach children to stitch.
Amy Morrow is a great example for us all.
Sue Fenwick is a freelance writer who lives in Springfield, Missouri. She writes every other Tuesday.