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Saturday, June 10 • 10:00am - 7:00pm
Pieced Together: Collective Memory in Crisis

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In the midst of crises, humans need each other more than ever. The COVID-19 pandemic has made physical gathering and typical efforts to share resources like food, clothing and shelter risky, if not impossible. As people were dying on a massive scale, social distancing severed communal ties and rituals that usually supported those grieving. A simple hug was dangerous. These interconnected and compounding losses in the midst of isolation drove many to creative expression. These practices marked time, recorded experiences, and enabled safe contact with others through physical objects—proxies for the embrace they could not share. This paper will explore how grassroots textile making activities during the pandemic support personal survival and also reinforce individual ties to the collective—from the ancestors that developed textile techniques and collective textile responses to crises, to neighbors near and far, to descendants who will interact with these future archives. I will show that just as making objects is a time and labor-intensive process, the items produced exist within a dynamic socio-cultural context that itself evolves slowly over time; cultural memory and narrative is crafted and requires attentive care and mending while it is being created and as it is maintained. We know there is no “one story” that is History, so we must aim to hold in tension many threads of stories and weave them into an interconnected cloth, one that can support more equitable futures.

To present this paper, I will read it while stitching with attendees on a section of our collaborative project, Stitching the Situation. I will invite folks to sit with me around embroidered panels, give a short introduction to the project, instruct participants how to cross stitch, and read the paper while we stitch. After reading, there will be time for discussion.
StS is an ongoing, grass roots community art project that considers the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US. Utilizing the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center database1, each case and death reported is embroidered with blue and red threads, one stitch each, respectively. With a variety of values and hues, stitchers create designs that reflect their individual pandemic experiences in the US. The first six months of data are represented on three lengths of fabric, organized by date, while each day following June 25, 2020, are individual “blocks,” stitched by individuals and groups of people across the US.

Social and political change is often slow; this project aims to catalyze the reach of digital networks and collaborative making practices to create an archive that can support and enable lasting social cohesion and equitable change. This hybrid process is an example of Dr. Vernelle A. A. Noel’s concept of “Situated Computations,” in which technologies and methods are “grounded in the social world by acknowledging the historical, cultural, and material contexts of design and making.”2 Dr. Noel’s scholarship is rooted in Richard Sennett’s definition of repair, from his book, Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation3. As the pandemic has exposed deep tears in our social and political fabric, we take on the work of repair.

Stitching together not only ties us to the long history of communal textile making, but also brings our attention to the present through meditative mark-making repetitions. We record our contributions, hear and see the stories of others, and share physical and temporal space while considering how these intersect, inform, and are shaped by history and scholarship. This additional layer of information adds to the database represented by the stitches, and “imagines data creation, as well as data sets and archiving, as an act of protest. When users, when people are cut out of the process of deciding what data collection means and how data is collected, the communal and slow process… emphasizes this protest.”4

The repetitive action of stitching calms the body and mind, and enables dialogue, even when conflicting experiences surface, in a format that is often more welcoming than our more frequent, disembodied interactions through digital platforms. This time- and labor-intensive process highlights the human and physical impacts of the pandemic, and the agency and power we embody as a collective.

In addition, I will bring completed blocks for display as an exhibition, alongside the initial three panels. The blocks can be hung on a wall or from the ceiling, while the panels will be displayed on tables with thread and needles to invite anyone to contribute stitches to the work during the conference. I will bring kits to distribute to anyone who wishes to participate further in the project.

I will also have “COVID Impact Worksheets” available for folks who may wish to contribute something of their story during the pandemic to the project, but may not be able or have time to stitch. These worksheets guide folks to consider how their identity and personal context shaped their COVID experience, and free write responses/memories they wish to share. Anyone who fills out a worksheet/shares their story will be connected with a designer/stitcher (if they are comfortable doing so, otherwise they can remain anonymous), who will translate their story into a pattern to be stitched by a volunteer.

All written instructions and worksheets are available in Spanish and English, and if anyone with additional communication needs would like to participate, I will meet those needs to the best of my ability. Accessibility is a central tenet of this project, and I am always adapting to include more people in this work.

1. Coronavirus Resource Center. Johns Hopkins University & Medicine, Jan. 22, 2020, https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/.
2. Noel, Vernell A. A. “Situated Computations as a form of Repair: Craft, Culture, and Computers,” Acadia 2020 Keynote: A Conversation of Culture and Access, Oct. 28, 2020, 29:20. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W83McyRQ2JI
3. Sennett, Richard. Together: The Rituals, Pleasures, and Politics of Cooperation. Yale University Press, New Haven, CT, 2012.
4. Sinders, Caroline. Feminist Dataset. 2017-current edit, p 4. https://carolinesinders.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Feminist-Data-Set-Final-Draft-2020-0526.pdf

avatar for Heather Schulte

Heather Schulte

Founding Artist, Heather Schulte Studio, Stitching the Situation project
Heather Schulte is an interdisciplinary artist based in Colorado and received her Bachelor of Fine Arts from the University of Nebraska-Lincoln in 2003. Her work combines handmade textile materials and techniques with digital fabrication and design processes, analyzing the intersection... Read More →

Saturday June 10, 2023 10:00am - 7:00pm EDT
Steuben Gallery