5.4 Million and Counting Project Update!

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counting Whole Women

silent needles make
each line a voice to hear,
she stitches loudly.

she punctures the cloth
feeling fearful and amazed,
absorbing her tears.

sensing the figure
decrease, expand, grasping the
vastness of millions.

women and stitches,
audaciously entangled.
she crafts conviction.

- Aimee McLaughlin, from 5.4 Million and Counting

 

If you’ve been following the progress of the 5.4 Million and Counting Embroidery Project, you’ll know that textile artist Chi Nguyen is steadily working to collect 5.4 million embroidered tally marks for a collaborative quilt. The quilt, which emerged in response to the landmark Supreme Court Case Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt, is a representation of each woman whose access to safe and accessible healthcare is currently at risk in Texas. In partnership with Textile Arts Center, Chi Nguyen has rallied communities far and wide through social media and a series of community ‘stitch-ins’ in order to bring attention to the issue through this work of art.

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In February, Textile Arts Center along with the Center for Reproductive Rights hosted a number of ‘stitch-ins’ aimed at bringing people together to embroider swatches for the quilt. At the stitch-ins sat long-time embroiderers and first-time stitchers, visitors and TAC regulars, friends and strangers alike. Small talk and social commentary buzzed through the studio while pinched fingers stitched busily into the night.

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In addition to local NYC efforts, 500 individuals and organizations across 25 states and 5 countries have mailed in swatches and organized stitch-ins. So far the project has accumulated total of 345,017 stitches. Chi will continue to collect stitches and add to the quilt until June 2016, when the Supreme Court decision is likely to surface.

 

INTERVIEW WITH CHI NGUYEN

On March 2, 2016, the Supreme Court of the United States held its hearing of Whole Woman’s Health vs. Hellerstedt. Joined by fellow textile artists, activists, and supporters, Chi traveled by bus from New York to Washington D.C. and brought the quilt’s colossal first iteration with her. We met with Chi to discuss the experience of being at the Supreme Court rally and to learn more about the significance of the project.

Describe the experience of being at the rally. How was the quilt received by the other attendees, protesters, and public?

Being in front of the Supreme Court with thousands of other supporters on March 2 was a very touching moment for me. In the freezing cold, our quilt became a blanket for volunteers and allies to wrap themselves in throughout the rally. At moments when anti-choice protestors became too aggressive, our quilt—stretching over the length of the court—became a shield for all the brave women and men who came out to defend our constitutional right to abortion. I saw the quilt being created and held up by people of all ages, gender, race, and identity.

There was so much love and bravery in the quilt with every line embroidered by our contributors. It really felt like everyone was at the rally with us in spirit as we held up the quilt.

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Why did you partner with TAC to create the quilt and hold stitch-ins? How did this influence the project?

I first came to know the Textile Arts Center when I was accepted into the Artist in Residence program in 2013. I shifted my focus from painting to textile arts then, so a lot of what I know about this medium was taught to me by my fellow residents and artists. This is why partnering with TAC for the 5.4 Million and Counting project felt very natural to me. I truly admire the knowledge and creativity that the center has when it comes to fiber art.

I feel like it’s an understatement to say that TAC is a huge part of 5.4 Million and Counting. From the logistics to the creative concepts, TAC was with me every step of the way. It is incredible to see so many textile artists and enthusiasts participating in this project because they have been long-time supporters of the Textile Arts Center.

 

What does the word ‘craftivism’ mean to you?

Political activist, artist, and writer Toni Cade Bambara said, “The role of the artist is to make the revolution irresistible.” That’s what I believe craftivism can do. With 5.4 Million and Counting project, I hope the public will use the quilt as a stepping-stone to learn more about the Supreme Court case and the condition of reproductive healthcare in the U.S. today.

Outside of 5.4 Million and Counting, the foundation of my textile practice comes from personal experiences. As a queer woman of color and an immigrant, I use my art as a way to fight for social justice.

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Although the hearing is over and the quilt has made it to and from the rally, what is the significance of continuing to collect stitches and add to the quilt?

With the Supreme Court decision likely to come down in June 2016, we still need to add more lines and swatches to the quilt to continue to show our support for the 5.4 million women of reproductive age in Texas to make sure that they will get the healthcare they need.

Aimee McLaughlin really moved me when she wrote, “she stitches loudly” and “she crafts conviction” in her poem [above] describing her experience working on this project. This quilt is our way to make our voices heard and to let politicians know that they can’t take our rights away.

 

Where do you see this project headed in the next few months? 6 months? A year? Where are the upcoming stitch-ins and how can we stay updated?

I think it’s alarming to know that in the 2015 legislative session alone, almost 400 bills were introduced and 47 new restrictions were enacted to prevent women from accessing their reproductive healthcare. My hope is to use the quilt as a form of protest and as a way to show our support for women across the U.S. for as long as these deceptive bills are being considered.

In the next few months, we will have stitch-ins in Philly on March 26 and Brooklyn on April 3. However, the list will continue to grow so please follow us on Facebook and Tumblr to stay updated!

You can also follow Chi’s Instagram to see behind-the-scenes updates of the project.

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HOW TO GET INVOLVED

Join Chi in reaching 5.4 million tally marks by June 2016! See below for how to send in stitches or host a stitch-in of your own. You can stay updated with the 5.4 Million and Counting project through Facebook, Instagram, and Tumblr. Thank you for your support! Accomplishing this project is not possible without you!

Send in Stitches

Keep on the lookout for stitch-ins in your area to see if there are any happening soon. If you cannot attend a stitch-in or would like to contribute individually, follow these instructions:

You can use a 10” x 10” inch swatch in any material and color. A contrasting thread color is important to ensure that your tallies are visible. Once finished, indicate the number of lines you have embroidered on a notecard. Please write your name on the same card if you would like to be acknowledged by the project.

Send all materials to:
Kelly Valletta, 5.4 Million and Counting Project
Textile Arts Center
505 Carroll St.
Brooklyn, NY 11215

 

Host a Stitch-In in Your Community

Materials You’ll Need

  • 10″ x 10″ fabric swatches
  • Embroidery hoops (4″ to 6″ diameter)
  • Sewing/embroidery needles
  • Embroidery floss, sewing thread, thin yarn–anything you can stitch a tally mark with!
  • A friendly meeting space (think: art center, community center, local art/craft store, community bookstore, cozy living room)
  • Friends, family, co-workers, acquaintances—the more the merrier!
  • Download this guide to hosting a stitch-in

How to Spread the Word

  • Draw attention through social media accounts (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter)
  • Link your posts with the hashtag #drawtheline
  • Create an online event through Eventbrite, Meetup, etc. and invite guests
  • Advertise at your local craft store, art center, bookstore, or community center
  • Invite friends, co-workers, family, and acquaintances!

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