To help afford city life and alleviate the incoming debt after graduation, college students have always felt a certain societal or personal pressure to get a job while in school. It’s far too common, though, that the job that is supposed to help you pay for college is actually detracting from your experience. Two Emerson friends, Sara Barber and Ashley Dunn, have found a way to make easy money while doing something they call both relaxing and fun: embroidery.
Barber and Dunn joke about the seemingly antiquated art form as something you’d imagine your grandparents doing—lounging around stitching unique patterns into a circle of cloth with a tiny needle and thread. Maybe a cat sits nearby, purring and twitching its tail. But the two students, 19 and 20, find that the craft, and its quirky connotations, suits them perfectly.
“On the T, a 60 year-old woman went up to me and said ‘Wow, I haven’t seen that since I was a kid,’ ” Barber said.
However, Barber and Dunn believe the uncommon nature of this medium adds to the personality and distinction of their art.
“Most people don’t really know what goes into embroidery,” Dunn said, “which makes them think it’s a lot more complex than it really is.”
Both of them discovered the art form for different reasons, and they’ve woven it into their busy lives.
Dunn, a junior communication science and disorders major, first started doing embroidery as a form of stress relief.
“I had a really hard semester and I took to embroidery to find my own peace,” said Dunn.
After long lectures and strenuous coursework, Dunn really enjoyed the physical act of the artwork and its rhythmic creation.
Most of Dunn’s work was similar to items and articles of clothing sold at mainstream stores, incentivizing her to start selling the pieces to college students.
“I knew people would buy the things I made because they were sold at Urban Outfitters and Brandy Melville and all those places that overprice their shirts and hats and whatnot,” Dunn said. “I could make all of that and sell it for cheaper.”
Dunn sold most of her work on the Facebook Free & For-Sale Page, not only greatly profiting from it, but also gaining a reputation around campus as the “embroidery girl.”
Barber, a sophomore, first started embroidering in the spring semester of her freshman year. Unlike Dunn, Barber was doing it initially as a hobby, an activity that she found both creative and rewarding. Barber was asked by the campus publication Your Mag to embroider zodiac constellation signs for one of the magazine’s photoshoots. Once she completed the project, Your Mag encouraged her to sell the artwork. Barber has sold over 200 of these handmade zodiac constellations, each intricately embroidered into a silky blue fabric, resulting in an ethereal piece that is both hypnotic and original.
To more easily sell her products, Barber created an Etsy company known as BitchStitchBarberShop, which, like its name, promises a spunky and rebellious twist on the traditional style.
For Barber, embroidery was more than just a hobby—it was a way to reach an audience in a non-traditional way. It is evident while browsing through her Etsy account that Barber has transformed the usually pale and mundane use of the medium into something with vibrancy and meaning.
“You can get something across in a unique way; in a way that people may not have seen before,” she said.
Barber is hoping to expand her artwork to include social justice messaging in the future.
“I love the freeness of embroidery and using it as an art to get people talking,” she said.
By being a therapeutic activity that can generate a fair amount of money and help foster unique expression, embroidery has proven to be the surprising remedy to many college problems.