Stitching FUN at Creative Discovery Museum

Stitching FUN at Creative Discovery Museum

Earlier this year, I was invited to be May's Artist in Residence at Creative Discovery Museum here in Chattanooga. CDM's Artist Residency program gives kids of all ages interact directly with local artists, see their process and live in their world for a bit with an interactive activity. For three Sunday afternoons in May, kids were able to learn about my machine, design their own chainstitch patch, watch it be embroidered by hand and attach it to a community jacket!

Creative Discovery Museum Website Artist in Residence: Kaitlyn Willow

When I met with the Arts Specialist, Liza Blair, we discussed some different options for the residency but our main ideas were to make the art of chainstitching accessible to kids who come into the museum. Ultimately, my residency looked like me working in the CDM Art Studio stitching up kid-designed patches for a community jacket that is now a part of the Art Studio moving forward. 

Here's where I really put on my user-experience hat and got into the kid's shoes for a minute. Thinking back to my original fascination with chainstitching before I got started, there is just this general "awe" when you see a chainstitch artist in action either in person or via social media. The manual nature of the embroidery artist steering each stitch is mesmerizing, so I wanted that to be a large focus of the demonstration. 

Our main issue was creating a collaborative experience for lots of kids at once (anywhere from 100-400+ kids coming through the art studio during the day). It wasn't realistic from a timing or safety perspective to let the kids steer or operate the machine themselves, but i didn't want it to just be a "watch and walk away" thing, so I decided to come up with a plan for the kids to have a hand in designing patches—which is a huge part of my artistic process anyway. I created a coloring page of sorts, giving each child the opportunity to choose a scrim felt patch backing color, and up to 6 thread color options to color in a few simple illustrations. From there, I'd take their completed coloring page and re-create their design and color combination directly on my machine by hand, cut it out, and stick a piece of velcro to the back for them to be easily attach the patch to the community jacket. 

Creative Discovery Museum Chainstitch patch design sheets history of chainstitch and how kait's machine works

All in all, we went through well over 250 patch design submissions the 3 weekend days I was there in May, and I was able to make about 50 patches total, filling up the community jacket!

Kaitlyn Willow standing next to the Creative Discovery Museum Community chainstitch jacket with colorful patch designs covering the back with a close up photo of a sun behind a cloud patch in green orange and yellow thread

So much of the embroidery magic happens below the table where my right hand is freehand steering the embroidery and my right foot is controlling the machine's stitching speed. While I had my normal table cover and even a partition at one point to keep any little hands from grabbing toward moving parts of the machine, I came up with a—rather ingenious if I do say so myself—idea to have a camera under the table connected to an external monitor showing a live feed to my handle. We toyed around with some kind of funhouse mirror setup, but ultimately a simple baby monitor was the winner. Let me just say, the kids LOVED this. In fact, a few younger kiddos grabbed the monitor and started to walk off with it! Don't blame them to wanting to take the magic with them, truly. 

The Kait Makes Handle Cam is now a staple I'll be using at future events—it's just SO fun to show the manual nature of the craft and you can just see it click in peoples' eyes when they can see what's going on underneath. 

view of Kaitlyn's chainstitch embroidery machine with a small baby monitor screen next to it showing the handle under the table

It's been so fun to get to see so many cute and inquisitive faces, show how my chainstitch embroidery machine works, and stitch all the fun color combos kids are coming up with! I'm on a mission to un-gatekeep chainstitch and make it accessible for all in general, so this residency has been exactly that. I'm so grateful to Liza, Caroline, and everyone else for including my art this month. Huge shoutout as well to Tennessee Arts Commission for sponsoring local artists here in Chattanooga through the CDM Artist's Residency Program.

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