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Why Craft Needs an Audience to Continue: How Technology is Building a Global Craft Movement | By Ellice Sperber

Adapted from an address written by Ellice Sperber, Nest Advisory Board member, for Nest’s Third Annual Impact Dinner. Photos by Millie Elangbam.

As an artisan myself, and the cofounder of a nonprofit hand embroidery school, San Francisco School of Needlework and Design, I have profound respect and passion for the work that Nest does.

It has been my distinct honor to support Nest and to serve on its Advisory Board. I am always in awe of this movement Nest Founder and Executive Director, Rebecca van Bergen, has spearheaded, and I am grateful to be a small part of the work Nest does. To everyone out there who celebrates craft’s bright future, thank you for believing in the importance of the handmade, which harbors the spirit of those who create and connect us to people, places, and moments in time.

When Nest asked me if I would say a few words at the Impact Dinner for Nest’s Third Annual Handworker Economy Convening: Handwork Rebooted, which addressed technology’s role in building a connected, transparent, globalized handworker economy, I thought – “of course, ask a person who founded a hand embroidery school to talk about technology!” But then I recalled that over the past three years, San Francisco School of Needlework and Designs, has been closely engaging with technology through our Stitch-At-Home Challenges.

Left: The Sun God Ra by Marsha Schuld of Saskatchewan, Canada. Right: Talisman Doll by Meret Piderman or Petaluma, California.

Three times each year, our school releases themed Stitch-at-Home Challenges. We invite anyone, from anywhere in the world to create their own stitched interpretation of the Challenge’s theme using needle and thread. We have had participants from over 30 countries and 40 US states enter our Challenges. This includes needleworkers like Rosy Acuña, who has participated in all of our Challenges, and lives in Costa Rica where she runs an embroidery academy for women battling cancer and mental health issues. It is nothing short of a miracle to have connected with so many stitchers from around the globe; it has only been possible due to the world wide web, where we are able to exchange creative ideas, support fellow makers, and connect artisans from all over the world to create international group needlework exhibitions.

The Fall 2019 Challenge theme was Talisman. For this theme we were able to offer an additional material to help creatively inspire and honor our embroiderers: upcycled Swarovski crystals. This opportunity was made possible through Nest’s partnership with Swarovski and San Francisco School of Needlework and Design owes a heartfelt thank you to Swarovski for this generous donation. Again, thanks to technology, we were able to ship these crystals to embroiderers in diverse locations, and curate the resulting pieces into an exhibition that traveled from San Francisco to New York City to exhibit at the Third Annual Nest Impact Dinner.

Left: Lucky You by Leah Silverwood of Norristown, Pennsylvania. Right: Fist Full of Figas by Margaret Timbrell of San Francisco, California.

There were 32 works of art in the exhibit that traveled to New York, including Rosy Acuña’s, which was inspired by the mountains, animals and plant life in Naranjo, Costa Rica. Rosy was invited to attend the dinner and she shared that it meant a lot for her to be there and have her work exhibited in New York, as it meant a lot to each of the artists who were included in the showcase.

Each of the artworks has a unique story. To share one more: at the dinner we hung a piece entitled “Incentive.” “Incentive” was created by Velia Antila of San Marcos, California, and the name of her piece is very purposeful. Following an invasive surgery, Velia has been challenged to regain full movement. Velia was looking forward to participating in the Talisman Challenge, but due to her limited mobility, she felt frustrated and discouraged. She considered backing out. But, when she heard about the donation of the Swarovski crystals and that her work would be showcased in New York, she received all the motivation she needed to persevere and she completed her lovely beaded Talisman.

Incentive by Velia Antila of San Marcos, California

This story reminds me that the beautiful craft traditions that Nest is supporting need an audience in order to continue. Some of the pieces in the exhibition, like Amy Jenkin’s tambour beaded glove and Marsha Schuld’s impressive metalwork beetle, took hundreds of hours to complete. Sometimes it is simply the knowledge that someone cares that pushes us forward. It’s the ability to share what we make that motivates us to continue our creative work. Nest is not only supporting artisans, but it’s building an appreciative audience, too. Each supporter of craft, whether gathering in person at Nest’s Impact Dinner and Convening, or virtually via the world wide web, is a part of this audience which fuels the creation and preservation of craft.

San Francisco School of Needlework and Design invites you to share your creative work in the current Stitch-at-Home Challenge: Twenties Visions. This could be the perfect challenge to say something about technology with a needle and thread.