Needlepointing with the Massai Women Tribe

Call me old fashioned (that’s fine, I can handle it), but I love needlepoint. I learned it from my great aunt. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to pass it on in a unique situation.

Aunt Lillian taught me, and I have been needlepointing ever since I was child. She was a great stitcher, better than I will ever be. It seems like needlepointing is a generational thing. My aunts did it, as well as my grandmother and mother.  Anyhow, I started out as a little girl making pictures and pillows. Over the last few years, I have moved to belts and other things. Needlepoint is my creativity “on the go.” I always seem to have a piece in my bag wherever I go. I am hoping to add a needlepoint kit to the ArtsBot product line.

On a recent trip to Kenya, I had the opportunity to teach needlepoint to a group of African Massai women. Just to understand a little bit about Massai women, these women live in poverty, are married off very young and have no formal education. None. Additionally, these rural areas lack basic electricity, plumbing, and any means of transportation to get around. Life is not easy in these Sub Sahara communities. 

These women are such a group of beautiful, authentic people. Despite the hardships of their lives, they are always smiling. The women were dressed in traditional African print clothing and many had braided hair. They have wonderful families and are a very tight group. These women are all very artistic. Their main craft is beadwork and embroidery work and they make all kinds of incredible jewelry, objects and wall hangings all from tiny beads. Their work is incredible and meticulous, and they sell their items for income. As part of community initiatives, many companies engage these women for their talents. I figured I could teach them a new art form.  

With the help of the Alice Peterson Company in California, I was on my way.  They donated a bunch of kits and off I went to Kenya. I remember when I called them to share about what I was doing they were so excited!  I was going to meet a Massai Women Craft Group. Was I nervous and scared? You bet I was! I was wondering how they would react to a modern woman from New York City. And honestly, it turns out that they were fascinated.  

It was such an incredible experience. First of all, they speak zero English and I mean zero. They had never seen anything like this. We all met in an outdoor room and I gave each woman a kit. I remember them looking at everything and feeling excited.  They opened the kits then looked at the canvas and the instructions. The instructions came as a graph that they could understand. Fortunately, needlepoint has its own language and the women caught on quickly. The men were not far away, all of them kept an eye on things. The men tend to control everything and the women have very little input. I think this was a very empowering experience for these women and a lot of fun as well. What a great time we had. This experience will always be dear to my heart.  



See you all again next month,