Tufts students convert traditional needlework hobby into a unique business

The artwork created by Julie Murray, a senior, who launched her own Etsy store, threadsbyjulie, last Tuesday after picking up embroidery this summer. Courtesy Photo Julie Murray

You may not find a cream-colored crocheted bikini top or an embroidery hoop with “f— off” artfully etched into it at your grandma’s house, but you may start seeing them around Tufts. In a time of two-minute power naps and mass production, three Tufts students have reclaimed a seemingly antiquated hobby of needlework and made it into both a relaxation technique and a counter to the fast-fashion industry. What’s the Stitch? and threadsbyjulie take old-fashion hobbies and apply a modern take.

Hannah Park and Lily Pisano, both sophomores, used their interest in crocheting to start their business “What’s the Stitch?” after a creative burst over the summer. Their store, now on Etsy, is dedicated to crocheting custom-made bralettes. According to Park, the idea came after she saw one of Pisano’s Instagram posts, in which she had posted a picture of a bralette she had made for herself.

“I used to crochet, a while ago, my grandmother taught me, and so I had a lot of free time on my hands at the beginning of the summer,” Park said. “So I was like ‘oh my gosh, how did you make that? I want to try to do it myself!’”

Pisano then sent Park the YouTube tutorial she used to create her bralette. According to Park, she followed the YouTube tutorial exactly for her first bralette, but found that there was room to improve when the needles were in her own hands.

“For the first one that I ever made, because I literally had no idea what I was doing, I just followed this YouTube tutorial exactly. Like literally went out and bought the same kind of yarn, because I just wanted to understand how it works,” Park said. “Then after that first one, when I tried it on myself I found that certain ways that it fit I didn’t really like, and I already knew enough about crocheting that I could tweak things.”

Once Park mastered the basics of making a crochet bralette, according to Pisano, the two combined forces to create What’s the Stitch?. So far, What’s the Stitch? has been met with success. According to Park, they’ve have their hands full with the amount of orders so far, both on the site and off the site.

“We’ve had three orders through the site, but I’ve done a lot outside of that. I have eight orders right now that I’m working on. I think that I’ve had six or seven outside of the site, so yeah, kind of a lot,” Park said.

Julie Murray, a senior, launched her own Etsy store, threadsbyjulie, last Tuesday after picking up embroidery this summer.

“I had a lot of free time this summer, and was thinking about how much I used to enjoy the crafting I used to do at summer camp,” Murray wrote in an email to the Daily. “I literally just went to the craft store thinking ‘what is something I can teach myself’ as a relaxing new hobby. I already knew how to sew, so I figured I’d try out embroidery.”

According to Murray, she started by making her embroidery pieces as gifts for friends and family, but the positive reaction she’s gotten from friends over the summer encouraged her to make her Etsy shop.

“I only started embroidering about halfway through the summer, and very early on some friends asked me to make them pieces,” she wrote. “Once I had made some additional pieces, I thought about publicizing my art further and seeing if people would actually pay for them. I posted my Etsy shop last Tuesday and got two orders within a few hours!”

For Murray, the process of needlecraft acts as a stress reliever both in the process of stitching and also in her final product.

“A lot of the phrases or messages on the [embroidery] hoops were expressions of the frustration and ambivalence I was feeling this summer, which I found quite cathartic to turn into what I considered an aesthetically pleasing product, and the process of which I found stress-relieving,” she said.

Similarly, Park and Pisano see crochet ultimately as a way to relieve stress. Park, a potential engineering psychology major, doesn’t necessarily see herself going into fashion as her career.

“It’s kind of like more because we both enjoy crocheting and find it really relaxing, and then it was kind of like ‘might as well make money on the side.’ So it’s not so much a I’m trying to mass-produce all these … It’s more what I want to do,’” Park said.

Judy Blotnick, a part time fashion lecturer at the SMFA at Tufts, echoes this sentiment, asserting that crocheting has traditionally served as a therapeutic outlet primarily for women.

“Crocheting is meditative and has a wonderful calming effect we all need,” Blotnick said. “Like meditation, it allows us to hear our thoughts while making something that is visible, or chatting with friends while our hands are occupied.”

Despite its traditionally feminine history, Murray intends for her work to serve as a contrast to the traditional assumption that needlework is a pastime for upperclass-women confined to their homes. Her hoops often express phrases of frustration and harshness while surrounded by delicate flowers and feminine colors.

“I wanted to sort of reclaim embroidery as a modern fiber art, and reject narratives that imply that embroidery can only be for old ladies to do quietly by making my embroidery both aesthetically pleasing and outspoken,” Murray said. “I thought that having aggressive phrases surrounded by cute flowers or details would create something surprising, not exactly what you might expect from embroidery.”

As an SMFA dual-degree student, Pisano understands the time and energy it takes to produce quality items — especially in handmade products. She stresses that one of the values of “What’s the Stitch?” is that its exposing people to the creative freedom found in handmade work.

“I mean if I had the option to buy the same thing cheaper at a store, I probably would, just given the option of the two, but I think the cool thing about handmade clothing especially is that you do get more of a say in terms of the aesthetic and just fun things that you want to add that you can’t onto H&M’s clothing, because it’s already made for you,” Pisano said.

While Pisano states the importance of cultivating respect for handmade products, Blotnick asserts that the rise of crocheting as a medium in fashion reflects a societal need for the unique.

“Crocheting is the antidote, the backlash to technology where human hands don’t necessarily do much past a keyboard,” Blotnick said. “With the advent of fast fashion, our souls long for that special thing, that art object we can adorn ourselves with that no one else will have.”