Mary Corbet

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I learned to embroider when I was a kid, when everyone was really into cross stitch (remember the '80s?). Eventually, I migrated to surface embroidery, teaching myself with whatever I could get my hands on...read more

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Needle Arts Class Preparation



Over the next two weeks, as the summer comes to a rapid close, I’ll be frantically preparing for the next school year to start.

If you’re a teacher, you already know that the summer is not really completely free. During the summer, we prepare for the next year in various ways: by professional development, by study, by organizing paperwork, by planning classes, and on and on. I’d also say that the relaxing that teachers can do during the summer also helps prepare them for the next year! So summer is a time of preparation for the teacher, and though I am not always as diligent as I should be in this regard, I do at least attempt a modicum of preparation for the next year.

This summer, I have something different to prepare for – something I find kind of exciting!

School Sampler

After a couple years of “subtle suggestion,” I was asked to teach a Needle Arts class in a local high school, as an elective. It’s not easy to convince schools today that some aspect of the Needle Arts can be (and should be – but I suppose this is debatable) a legitimate part of the fine arts curriculum in school, at least as an elective. It’s easier to convince private schools, anyway, and so… voilá… the deed is done, and I am teaching a Needle Arts class this year. It’s an experiment, certainly, but if it goes well, there may be a possibility of expanding.

It works out half-way well for me. I’m pleased as punch to be asked to teach the class. But then there’s the lazy side of me kicking in… My other teaching job is all in the morning – I’m out by 12:30 pm each day – but it just so happens that the elective block that the Needle Arts class will fit into is the Last Hour of the Day, every day. I haven’t taught the Last Hour of the Day in years! But still – this is great for traveling between schools; there’s certainly plenty of time to get to class and to do some pre-class prep every day.

So, in the background for several weeks now, I’ve been working on preparing a year-long course in Needle Arts. I’m excited about it! I’m sure I’ll revisit the topic off and on during the school year – but I’ll try not to bore you with it!

What do you think, anyway, about Needle Arts being a legitimate part of the arts curriculum at a school? I’m not talking about needle arts as a small segment of a “craft” class, but a real, legitimate, hands-on course in Needle Arts…. Do you think it has a place as at least an elective? What do you think would be especially beneficial about it? What do you think it should encompass, topic-wise? I’d love to hear your ideas on this!! Leave a comment below, and let’s discuss the topic!


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(115) Comments

  1. How wonderful! I think it’s a great idea. Needlework is a craft your students can practice for the rest of their lives. No matter how much drudgery is involved in their workaday life, if they have needlework at home (or in their bag next to their desk), they have a creative outlet. Additionally, needlework has been an intrinsic part of education, at least for girls, for millenia. They are joining the great sisterhood of stitchers when they pick up their needle and thread.

    Good luck, and I look forward to hearing how the class goes.

  2. Wow…. What topics can be covered in a Needle Arts Class? History, Math, Art, Science, Geography, just to name a few. They could all be incorporated over a years time. Sounds wonderful to me. Good luck Mary and it sounds like this is a great adventure for you.

  3. I think it’s a fabulous idea! I have offered to teach units at our high school with various home ec teachers over the past 25 years. None of them have responded positively, which makes me very sad. Three of my daughters took home ec at the high school and learned very little. The one daughter who didn’t take home ec sews, spins, weaves, knits, and crochets. I wonder what that says about our home ec program?

  4. I think a needlearts elective is a wonderful idea. There are so many young people today who dont know how to do any of the needle works. I had family to teach me when I was growing up, but with mothers working nowadays,needlework takes a back seat. We are going to lose all our great needlearts if we dont teach our youth.

  5. That is just so awesome – I wish they had that class when I was in school. I did take four years of sewing (in the early 80’s), and was constantly told what a waste of time it was by teachers and my parents. The only person I have ever known to be taught any type of needlework in school is my sister-in-law. She grew up in a little town in Guatamala and had frequent classes in it, but hasn’t touched it since. I’m looking forward to hearing what you are going to do with the class.

  6. Finally – needle arts are being taken seriously. I have studied art history at the college level and was very disappointed to learn that needle arts (or textiles) are not part of the art history curriculum. Not only does this exclude an important art form from the course of study, but it also minimizes the contribution of women to the arts.
    Good luck with your class. Mary Ann

  7. I believe it is an excellent idea. I think we need to bring back Home Economics and restore those things that our parents or grandparents participated in. Sewing, in all forms, seem to be disappearing and cooking, well all of us eat and to train our children is a good thing, in all things.

    Keep us posted as to how the class is progressing. I’m excited to hear about this class.

  8. Yes I think this is a valid class for fine arts curriculum. I taught middle school for many years and one of the things I did was teach a class that incorporated reading, history, and a quilting project. There is so much history that is associated with the arts and needlework was very much a part of that. Certain tapestries, designs and even needlework tools are associated with specific eras and as you know some things are becoming lost arts–tatting, bobbin lace, etc. Many of these forms of art were the only types respectable women could do since it was frowned upon for them to do painting and sculpting. Needlearts was the woman’s venue for artistic expression.

  9. Needle Arts should definitely be part of a school curriculum (as well as other “forgotten” arts). Since I began homeschooling my son and daughter (13 and 11 now), we have included a needlework project or two every year that ties into the material we’re studying in history. No complaints from either child—they love these hands-on projects—and their friends are intrigued as well!

  10. Dear Mary,
    What a wonderful idea!! I am so happy for you. The girls that you are going to teach have no idea of how fortunate they are to have YOU for a teacher. You have such a wonderful way of explaining needlework. If only I had a teacher like you in my school days. I am mainly self taught, but it would have been so much easier if I had a proper teacher. Looking forward to hear of your endeavours with your students. Lots of love Elza Bester Cape Town xxx

  11. I think its a fabulous idea.
    At school as librarian I was often encouraged to try something of the sort but never given any time to do it, except at recess or noon hour.
    Use of colour and line would be two topics to explore, not to mention use of fibers in all its differnt incarnations. Wool for stitching or knitting, cotton for stitching or woven, exploring all the different textures and uses of the end products.
    Ricky in Winnipeg

  12. Dear Mary
    I think any Needle craft whether it is teaching someone to stitch on a button properly to embroidery or stump work should be an essential part of the school day – as important as using a pen or a keyboard.
    Some people may hate it and come to it later in life, some may just find a corner of the day where they can stitch while letting the hurly burly of life just go over their head but it beats a Gameboy into a cocked hat!
    Gill UK

  13. Home Ec was the only course we were offered, but the handwork from crochet to embroidery was my favorite part of the class. Learning to machine sew was more of a necessary evil. I love sitting around and doing things while I visit with friends or watch TV and such.
    I’m jealous of your students. It will be so fun. I love reading your column because of your enthusiasm, hints and it feels like a visit with a friend. Your students are VERY fortunate – and not just for the creativity – handwork is so therapeutic and helps me relax, and so many these days will never learn that…. HAVE FUN!!

  14. What a wonderful opportunity! I can’t wait to hear about what you do. Think not just in terms of the actual needle arts you can teach them, but what an opportunity it is to do some interdisciplinary work incorporating history and even (perhaps) a bit of Women’s Studies. Items which come to mind immediately for me are the samplers which young girls made; the work in one blanket by multiple women in quilting bees; with knitting, the socks and other items made for soldiers during various wars; the traditions of fisherman’s sweaters; the home-based industries that women had which helped support their families; the effect of the industrial revolution on those industries; the history of men in the needle arts (particularly in the British isles in knitting); ethnic traditions and how the modern age has impacted those (indigenous people in Canada having their works, motiffs, etc. copied/stolen); and the expansion of needle arts into the fine art realm (think of installations involving fiber arts, etc. the Museum of Arts and Design in NYC would be a good resource.) I guess that was more than a couple ideas LOL.

  15. ohh! i think its wonderful!i dont know about in the u.s.a but here in quebec its a lost skill.(cross stich is almost the only form of embroidery practiced and not very much)so i think its very exiting to know that young people learn about it.

    have fun this year mary!

  16. WOW!!!! The class is sure lucky to have you for their teacher. I am so happy that you will be doing what you so obviously enjoy. Please keep us updated on what you do teach.

  17. Hi Mary, can I come to your class? It sounds like so much fun. I think a fascinating unit would be on ethnic embroideries, how people have embellished their clothing around the world. Then you could have uses, ecclesiastical, interior design, domestic, laundry marking, samplers! Then there are techniques. I hope you share what the course will be. I wouldn’t be surprised if there would be people interested in taking it who are not in school any more.

  18. Yoou are to be commended…Our youth need to learn the crafts of their ancestors….Wish I had paid more attention when I was younger. Keep us posted on the progress.

  19. I am a teacher myself (middle school math) and love the idea of an elective needle arts class. For many kids, school is the only opportunity they have to be exposed to creative endeavors and develop those skills. Beyond learning the art, I believe needle arts as a class can help kids develop self-discipline, attention to detail, confidence, pride in a completed work, self-worth, and broaden perspectives. Just think of the opportunities to see history, math and the written word in a different way! You are so right that teachers do not really have summers off. I’ve been in and out of my classroom all summer getting settled into a new room, labelling and sorting new textbooks, putting up bulletin boards,and planning lessons. I do, however, love the flexibility and the fact that I can choose what to do when depending on my frame of mind that day/hour/minute! Have a great year. Love your site!

  20. Mary,

    Wow the possiblities! You are so lucky, as well as the students. Needle Arts are such a wonderful part of our history. I recently downloaded a free ebook called English Embroidery and was immediately engulfed. The beautiful works from the Royal Needle Arts School, as well as Queen Elizabeth I. I thought to myself someone needs to keep this history alive. What better way than this, teaching the next generation about this beautiful art. You go girl!

  21. I don’t see why other common arts classes (I recall Ceramics, Band/Jazz Band and Introduction to Drawing/Art at my school) would be valid and needlearts not. Of course, you’re talking to a rather biased audience.

    I’d love to know what kind of ground you plan to cover. I can only imagine the diverse and comprehensive curriculum students would get from quite possibly the most knowledgeable needlearts blogger out there.

  22. What a wonderful idea. I hate the way needlework knitting crocheting has lost it’s way. I would love to see kids get hooked on something other then gaming. I still remember my first taste of Swedish weaving and learning to knit and crochet st 8 years old. The desire has never left me.

  23. Hi, Mary. What a wonderful opportunity for both you and your students. Most of the comments posted mentioned needlework and the opportunity to teach about its history. I would include art education. This is such an opportunity to begin your student’s education in design principles, and beginning to work on creating their own designs. To me, a good portion of the pleasure of needlework is knowing that the design is my own. All design comes from the heart and so there is real satisfaction knowing that you are expressing yourself. And what opportunities do most kids have today to express themselves?

    Go for it, and have fun! Looking forward to reading future posts about this endeavor. Sandi

  24. Needle Arts in school. How wonderful ! I took music in school, playing a bassoon for 3 years and probably could not play a note today. But, what I did learn was an appreciation for classical music. Today when I listen to an orchestra I can tell the difference between the sound of a clarinet and a oboe. I imagine a Needle Arts class that not only teaches the execution of a perfect french knot and a beautifully curved outline stitch but the appreciation of all things that come from the needle. I firmly believe that things that are not understood are not appreciated. What an opportunity to teach not only basic needlework skills, but how to identify the different kinds of needlework, the tools used to make them, the way to execute those skills, and on and on and on…. What a wonderful chance to teach students not all needlework comes from a kit; they can design their own work, do it in the threads and stitches THEY choose. When people love something they collect it and will preserve it for the next generation. Who knows you may be the teacher who sparks an interest in textiles of a student who will be the next curator at the Smithsonian Institute or the next William Morris or a woman who is never bored and fills her life executing lovely embroidery. One thing you will do is raise the level of appreciation of all textiles. What an exciting opportunity for you to pass on your passion.

  25. I com;letely agree with you. I taught my granddaughter at an early age. Now she has the skills whenever she needs them

  26. I think this is a wonderful idea!! Needle arts will include a lot of other areas (including history and math) and open up a world perhaps not otherwise available to some students. My interest in embroidery as a 10-year-old was encouraged by a neighbour lady and I’m pleased so say that on her 50th wedding anniversary I presented her with a hardanger/cross stitch /silk ribbon embroidery sampler with a note on the back of the framed piece thanking her for helping me to begin to learn some stitching arts so many years ago. Speaking for myself, the encouragement given to an interested 10-year-old turned into a life-long passion (obsession . . .) for the various needlearts and at nearly 60 years old I’m still learning. I sincerely hope that your experiment has a similar outcome for the majority of your students. With it being offered as an elective course, most students will already have a spark of interest which should make teaching such a class a pleasure.

  27. I think that this is an awesome idea. Your a
    great teacher, and you have a passion for the
    needle work. It will give them a project, to
    set up, work on and have the finished item to
    say I made this. I made this is a very good feeling to have. Most of the things we do in life are a set up, work on and finish. Too often today it is a set up, work on half way and abandion. You will do great at it…my
    applause to you, Mary the Needle work teacher!
    I think this is just the beginning of a great
    career in needle work teaching, like you don’t already have a career in needle work. LOL

  28. Hi Mary

    I think that is a wonderful idea. I wish all schools taught what we used to call Home Ec. Growing up in Toronto back in the 40’s & 50’s our school was kindergarden through grade 8 and the last two years – grades 7 & 8 – we used to walk to another school that had the equipment and we were taught both cooking and sewing. No fine needlework but at least there was some hand sewing involved.

    I have a funny story to tell you. I had 2 older sisters 5 & 7 years older then me. I started to get interested in clothes around grade 8 and used to sneak my sister’s clothes when I could. One day a newspaper photographer came to our home ec class and took a picture of me hand sewing. My picture was published in the Toronto Star and my sister saw it and screamed you are wearing my good blouse. She put a lock on her closet and that ended that. We laughed about it for years.



  29. I think a needle arts curriculum would be wonderful!  It could be combined with American History. School girl needlework was important in the life of colonial women.

    There will be a new exhibit on Betsy Ross at Winterthur museum this fall. Betsy did far more than sew our first flag. She was also a successful needle woman and upholsterer. Philadelphia and many other coloniial cities had advertisements in local papers for needle work schools. Many young colonial women attended these schools as their only means of education. 

    Coordinating a formal needlework class with an early American history course would be great.  Even if it started off as as extra credit project for a history class. It is truly interdisciplinary.  The class can study Betsy Ross, Abigail Adams and other “founding mothers” as they learn the art and importance of needlework. 

    There is a new book out on Betsy Ross which I believe is available through Winterthur’s book store.  And didn’t Cokie Roberts write Founding Mothers?

    I also learned that men on ships had a basic need to learn needlework to mend sails, etc. There were thimbles designed for this purpose.  If a sail was damaged at sea, it had to be mended. 

    I think this is a great idea!!  Band Sampler’s are always popular!  This has unlimited possibilities. 

    Sent from IPhone

  30. Hi Mary,
    This sounds wonderful! Maybe teaching this class will give the students something more enjoyable then games, hanging out or doing nothing. I can see them going to the mall with a new places in mind to shop. Fabric store, needle art store or just buying this shirt to do some stitching on. I think doing anything like needle arts, quilting, scrap booking or even just reading. It gives people a chance to be alone with themselves. That they don’t need to be entertained by outside mediums all the time. It lets your mind wonder and dream!
    Have fun!

  31. Needle arts can be taught as a spine on which to hang women’s history and the history of suffrage and women’s rights. You could bring in concepts from “No Idle Hands” to show women’s organization started with service oriented needlework groups; and even veer off into the needlework-as-oppression thoughts of books like “The Subversive Stitch” – there’s plenty of academic discussion material between them both to bring up while the class is learning stitching techniques. It’s a great opportunity!

  32. Ditto, ditto, ditto! Mary, you are so fortunate that the school will even consider letting you teach an elective in needlearts! Most schools are cutting arts of any kind. I am a science and math teacher, and the arts are just as valuable a part of the curriculum as are any of the “core” subjects. So glad you are able to teach this class!

    What should it include? I would show the students some basic stitches and let them create! But that’s me….I like to “play”!

    Let us know how the class goes. I would love to know how the students like it.

  33. This is a blessing for so many students. I taught Home Economics years ago and the students made, among other things, stuffed animals by hand from kits. Many of the students still have theirs after 20 years. Needlework never goes out of style. You will be teaching them a skill that will last a lifetime. Go for it. Have fun.
    Louise B.

  34. Hello Mary,
    Can I joint the class ? Will you put your cours on your web site as a tutorial ? You can sign me in, please.
    I would love to be your student. Yes for Needle Crafts class to hand down the tradition.
    Students will be able to say that they did it by hand by themself without pushing a computer button.
    Great succes in your new project.

  35. Hey, Mary, Well, the University of Kentucky agrees with you. In the theater dept the students have to take costume design and construction. The professon, Bob Haven studied Japanese embroidery at the Center in Atlanta in order to make authentic costumes. He has hosted 2 or 3 trips for students to study, as well. And, the University of Kentucky is sponsoring a world exhibition of JE at their art museum next year. So, yes,I would say that needlearts should be included in arts studies, at least as an elective.
    Here are the links:
    AnneG in NC

  36. As a teacher of Art, Craft and Design in the UK, Textiles is part of the curriculum at my all girls school for years 7 & 8. Year 9 it becomes an elective subject. Next school year there will be 76 students out of 180 who have elected to carry on with Textiles which covers embroidery,patchwork,feltmaking,dressmaking and mixed media work.I think we are in the minority but the students obviously want to carry on. The chance to study the subject should be there for all.Look forward to seeing how your classes go Mary.

  37. I hope the class will not be restricted to females. When I married my husband 48 years ago he some suit trousers with staples in the hem. Hem came loose and he had no idea how to stitch it. The USAF taught him to shine shoes perfectly and work on intricate electronics but no sewing!

  38. I am in favor of a stronger academics program in schools, after seeing what my children were offered. But they did all make it through college, so I suppose the curricula weren’t too soft. Needlearts, especially combined with history, certainly could be a great elective, probably more useful than ceramics. Although I do have quite a few nice bowls and cups my youngest made in high school.

    What sort of things will you be teaching? Will you teach decorative stitching, or more common and potentially useful, but boring, things like sewing on buttons, snaps? How about incorporating history into the course? And of course, the opportunities for math abound! This could show a lot of students how useful math is. A couple of years ago I converted instructions for cutting out baby gowns from 45″ fabric to 54″ by solving two equations with two variables. Maybe I could dig it up for you! 🙂

    Then there is always the potential for incorporating engineering into the classes. You could talk about tensile strengths of different threads, mechanics of fastening techniques, why fabrics shrink, and on and on.

    I can’t wait to see what you’ll be teaching.

  39. I think it’s a great idea! Our middle school here in my hometown was losing it’s home arts teachers to retirement and funding, so the kids are losing out on a lot!I recommend changing some of the cirriculuum from today and adding classes such as yours and other languages,sign language (and the history that was avoided or left out). I wish we would of been taught how to do samplers etc. when I went to school,long,long time ago!lol! I just love receiving your newsletter and hope to one day be able to make the beautiful things I see on here! Thanks!

  40. Mary, I think your idea of the needlework class is wonderful. I am 64 yrs old this month and I can remember some of the things I learned in school that changed my life forever! Especially in sewing, needlework, and the love of reading. I was just in grade school when I learned about embroidery, so I taught myself over the years. In this class you will change someones life! This may grow so much you will have to expand!!
    Mary Ann Dennis, Port St Lucie, Florida