By Emma Kahmann

Badass Cross Stitch and Her Story have forged global communities through cross-stitching events.

The LGBTQ+ community has fought for greater visibility and societal understanding for years. While everyone’s personal journey to express their identity is unique, Shannon Downey has used traditional crafts like cross stitching to give women and LGBTQ+ folks a channel to develop a deeper understanding of themselves through the power of community and art.

Downey is the creator of Badass Cross Stitch and Badass HERstory, two global craft projects where ambassadors can host a stitch-up in their community, and women and LGBTQ+ people can come together to create art and center themselves and their identity. Downey says she has “seen great transformations happen by participants in terms of how they understand themselves and how that impacts their own power and voice” through the groups. The projects, which have been evolving steadily over the past six years, moved to an online gathering once COVID-19 hit, but will soon take place in person again.

Social media has had a huge impact in the craft projects’ awareness. Downey’s two Instagram accounts have a combined 160,000 followers, which feature the participants’ art. While she shares posts to her accounts quite frequently, the participants usually spend over a year creating and submitting their work, as Downey says the artists feel guilty creating for themselves. “I feel guilty taking time to make art about myself when I could be making blankets for babies in hospitals,” is a common refrain she explains. Downey finds these types of comments heartbreaking, and she wants participants to understand that the project symbolizes feminine resistance and a chance to take up space.

Downey noticed that a lot of community craft projects were aimed at creating for others. The global craft projects she created demand that the individuals think about themselves and the part they play in impacting the world. Since the start of the project in 2015, Downey has honed her focus on finding ways to support people in the community, whether that’s through resources, art, or simple advice. Downey’s latest initiative is called “How to be a Good Human,” a continuous series of free and pay-what-you-can training to support folks in developing hard skill sets made in collaboration with Chicago’s Asian Americans Advancing Justice.

LGBTQ+ and women have gone to great lengths to fight for visibility for the past few decades. Badass Cross Stitch and HerStory have allowed those communities to bring stories and identities to life that are often denied existence. Downey’s projects are designed for individuals to find their voice. “I want them to dig deep and find the power they hold and then wield it like the goddamn warriors they are,” she says.

Image credit: Badass Cross Stitch

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