Sewing Bee Beyond Borders

For centuries women have used  stitching as a means of expressing themselves. For example, deciding what colors, what fabrics, and what patterns to use is in itself a form of self expression. Stitching also has been used subversively such as with the Underground Railroad Quilts used to help slaves escape or Madame Defarge, a character in Dicken’s Tale of Two Cities, who transmitted secret codes in her knitting.

99 Art Project

Sometimes stitching can be used as a form of protest as with Bordamos Feminicidios a group of Mexican women who use embroidered handkerchiefs to protest against female homicides. And many artists, including Louise Bourgeois, Maria Lai, and Tracy Emin, have used stitching not only as an art form but also as a means of externalizing some of the anguish within.

Louise Bourgeois Made Fabric Books

Sewing also provides a means of storytelling as seen in arpilleras, Hmong story cloth, molas, and embroidered huipiles.

¿Dónde estás?

But sewing can offer women something else—companionship. American quilting bees, for example, were social gatherings that permitted women to get together to work on quilts thus combining necessity with pleasure. The sewing circle concept eventually became démodé but made a revival several years ago when Stitch ‘n Bitch knitting groups started surfacing worldwide. Women rediscovered the pleasure of working with their hands while sharing stories with other women.

Everyone has a story to tell and, eager to create an anthology of such stories, Lavinia Lindsay and Cisca Mikx have teamed up to create a sewing bee beyond borders they’ve called 99 Art Project. Women from around the world have been invited to explore the possibilities of using needle and thread to share personal experiences.

White Shirts

The ladies participating begin with finding a white shirt that will act as home base for the journey their stitching will take them on.  Because hands make the world tangible. They help us interact with our surroundings. But they also provide a means of  interacting with our own being. Working with our hands helps prevent self-alienation.

making and thinking

And working with our hands collectively creates a bonding in the same way that stitching unites one material with another. As the women of  99 Art Project begin exploring themselves, they will share their discoveries  with other members of the group. Like a patchwork blanket, they will put their pieces together to make a whole.

they sewed together

I, too, will be participating as well and documenting my journey here on this blog. Because female Synergy and Solidarity will save the world!

Mal Oo

Cynthia Korzekwa  ©

Related: Storytelling Through Textiles + Craftivism: Activism Using Craft + IN PRAISE OF HANDS: Knit yourself well.

Claire McCardell and The American Look

One reason why the typical Mexican attire Frida so loved such as huipiles, rebozos, and ponchos continue to be used is because the designs are simple, practical and elegant.

Claire McCardell (1905-1958) was a designer who also took the Occam’s Razor approach to creating clothes in large part because of  the WWII imposed parsimony. Using limitation as a source of inspiration, Claire created designs meant to make the most out of a little. She used “alternative” fabrics such as denim and wool jersey and surplus government weather balloon cotton for her creations.  And the shortage of leather led to Claire’s making ballerina flats popular.

With the war, women had to assume a chores generally done by men as the men were busy being soldiers.   No longer objects but, instead, sheer animation, women needed clothing that was practical and easy to move in.  Claire may have been influenced, when studying in Paris, by Coco Channel’s desire to liberate women shackled by fashion.

Claire, often referred to as the High Priestess of the Understatement, said she designed things that she needed for herself but, it seemed, others needed, too.  She strove for simplicity and created mix ‘n match garments that could extend a wardrobe with the leitmotif of  functional and affordable.


Claire revolutionized American fashion via some of the following designs:


Monastic dress, a toga like gown with a belted waist (1938)


Diaper Bathing Suit (1942)

Claire McCardell's Diaper Bathingsuit


Popover Dress (1942) which was a wrap-around dress including an attached pot holder for those women who had guests for dinner and thus had to run back and forth from the kitchen.

Claire Mccardell, every hostess needs an oven mitt


A wrap dress was versatile in that it could be used as a house dress, party dress, dressing gown and even as a bathing suit cover up.

Claire McCardell, Popover Dress

For the Mayans, a huipil created a sacred enclosure for a woman’s body. And, when she entered her garment by pulling it over her head, the woman became the axis of her universe. Popover dresses also permit the woman to be the axis.


The Future Dress made from triangular pieces of fabric.

Claire McCardell, she cut a triangle and wore it


Shoulder Shrugs are easy to fold and easy to wear (1947)

Claire McCardell, shoulder shrug


Georgia O’Keefe owned a number of McCardell dresses.

claire 7 b


Claire collaborated with artists such as Picasso, Chagall, Milo, Leger using fabrics designed by them for her creations. For her  “Fish Dress”, she used Picasso’s ‘Fish Print’ fabric (1955).  Thus something designed by Picasso could be bought by the yard. The artist didn’t mind commercializing his art.  However, Picasso refused to have his designs used for upholstery fabric.  It was one thing to be worn but something totally unacceptable to have his art used for sofas thus be sat upon.

Claire McCardell and Picasso's Fish Print


Huipil dresses to make inspired by Claire include the halter top dress and the Grecian tunic dress.

Claire McCardell Style

Mal Oo

Bibliography:   McCardell, Claire. What Shall I Wear? . The Overlook Press.New York. 2012



Last November, my daughter and I went to see the “Mexique” exhibition at the Gran Palais. Here is the long overdue publication of my related notes:

Pont Alexandre III  is the most ornate and grandiose bridge in Paris. Named after Tsar Alexander III, the bridge commemorates the alliance established between Russia and the Third Republic in 1892. And, with its view of the Eiffel Tower, it’s an often used location for wedding picture and tourists’ selfies.  Crossing the bridge is like taking a stroll in an en plein air museum as the bridge is full of sculptures—cherubs, lions, seashells, monsters and much more. Built for the city’s World Fair in 1900, the bridge links the Hôtel des Invalides  with the Petit and the Grand Palais.

Pont Alexandre III

The Gran Palais hosts a number of exhibitions every year such as “Mexique” dedicated to Mexican art from 1900-1050. Naturally, Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera were the main attractors but there were, aside from Orozco and Siqueiros,  many “minor” artists of interests such as José Guadalupe Posada, Julio Ruelas, Roberto Montenegro, Ángel Zárraga and Carlos Mérida.

Some of the women included in the exhibition:

Tina Modotti photographed Frida and mujeres indigentes

Lola Alvarez Bravo photographed Frida and Mexican culture

Maria Izquierdo painted self-portraits and Sueño y presentimien

Lola Cueto made puppets and papel picado embroidery

Olga Costa painted fruit and people

Nahui Olin was a model, painter, and poet

Rosa Rolanda was a neo-figurative painter

English-Mexican Leonora Carrington was a surrealist painter

Alice Rahon was fascinated by Frida

Bibliography: The Human Tradition in Mexico  byi Jeffrey M. Pilcher

Mal Oo