The idea to combine social justice and quilting first came to Sara Trail following the death of Trayvon Martin. He was just seventeen when he was murdered by George Zimmerman for looking “suspicious” while taking a walk around his neighborhood— and was only two weeks older than Trail herself at the time. Harrowed by his death, she turned to quilting as a way to process his passing and honor his memory. The project was a revelation; giving Trail “a completely new understanding of what it means to quilt with a purpose,” and planting the seed for what would eventually become the Social Justice Sewing Academy.
By that point, Trail had been sewing for over thirteen years, beginning at the age of four. With the encouragement and guidance of her parents and local mentors, her talent developed rapidly alongside an entrepreneurial spirit that landed her a nationally published book deal at the age of 13 and her own DIY sewing DVD series two years later. Though undeniably impressive, the heart of these efforts was a desire to make sewing accessible to everyone. Trail sought to reach children who lacked a sewing community to learn from; passing on the passion that had become so dear to her.
After graduating from UC Berkley, Trail decided to integrate social justice more fully into her work. Using grant money from the university’s Stronach Prize for creative community-based research, she founded a six-week summer program in Berkley where kids were taught to express themselves through social justice art quilts. Following a move to Massachusetts to pursue her master’s in education at Harvard, Trail began another series of workshops, and hasn’t stopped since. In the last two years, the Social Justice Sewing Academy has become a resolute movement, hosting workshops across the country and engaging with participants of all backgrounds with help from over 700 dedicated volunteers.
Each workshop asks its participants to grapple with difficult themes of discrimination and oppression. It encourages individuals to share and process their own stories through their personal contribution to the quilt. These individual creations are then stitched together to form one large, unified piece exhibited in spaces across the country. The finished quilt is a poignant statement of resistance and the prevailing strength of community and creativity, demonstrating that “sewing can be more than just a hobby; it can be a revolutionary form of resistance.”
A single, visually arresting quilt square created by the Social Justice Sewing Project will be on view from July 17th to August 30th as part of Beacon Gallery’s Mixed Messages exhibition. This group show brings together multiple artists and their work around the concept of sexual violence.
To learn more about Sara Trail and how to support SJSA, visit the organization’s website at http://www.sjsacademy.com/. For news and images recent work, you can follow SJSA on Twitter and Instagram @sjsaacademy, or on Facebook @socialjusticesewingacademy.