Sophomore Belle Durkin’s embroidery adjunct is not just your grandmother’s needlepoint.
Durkin first learned the beginning stitches from her grandmother during family sewing days. Now, she is bringing a modern flair to an “ancient” art. Instead of sewing pillows or smocking dresses, she’s embroidering bras and jean jackets, and her students are stitching everything from animals, to uteruses, to slogans from Women’s Marches. “There’s a stereotype of it being a grandma’s art,” Durkin said. “That’s kind of true, but there’s also so many cool things to do with it. I haven’t met too many people who have just picked it up as a craft, but I think embroidery has gotten a lot more popular, especially in fashion.”
Outside of class, Durkin takes requests through her Instagram account @needle_beetle, which is filled with embroidered jeans, jackets, and caps. One hat has the phrase “smash the patriarchy” stitched into it, while a jacket is decorated with a succession of hands reaching for each other. The comments section of each post is filled with words of support and more order requests from her young followers. This work, bringing other people’s visions to life, is Durkin’s favorite. Her account currently has 440 followers and is constantly gaining popularity. With each new piece and full class roster, Durkin is renewing enthusiasm for the art of embroidery.
Every block, Durkin’s students gather in the art studio on the lower level of Worner Campus Center twice a week to learn the basics. After mastering the fundamental stitches, it’s up to the students to decide how to use them. “I basically let the students do whatever they want,” Durkin explained. “Each class I’ll teach a new stitch or way of doing something, but then just seeing what they come up with to do with those stitches is so exciting. I have a student in my class now who came in the next class with a complete outline of something she wanted to do and was excited about. I think that’s awesome.”
One such student was first-year Emma Olsen, who took the class in Block 4 and has since embroidered a jacket and t-shirt in her free time. “The class was so relaxing for me,” Olsen said. “I honestly looked forward to it every week. My favorite part was just sitting around talking and embroidering in a calm environment, away from homework and distractions.”
Other than the sounds of people milling about the studio and music drifting through an old speaker, the room is quiet. The students chat about class, family, and their weeks, while focusing on the projects in front of them. Most of the students are beginners, though this is not evident from the quality of their work.
“All the classes are so amazing and are geared towards beginners, so even if you’ve never touched a needle or played with clay, it’s designed for you,” Durkin said. “What other time is better to learn a new craft or pick up a new hobby than in college?”
Like for Olsen, most students’ embroidery does not end in the classroom, but translates to a longstanding hobby. Many students also go on to join a different arts and crafts adjunct when the block ends.
“With all the classes, you see your progress so quickly,” Durkin said. “You create something, and that’s a beautiful thing.”