Civics knowledge can be surprisingly difficult for Americans and immigrants alike. Earlier this month, a group of about 15 strangers challenged themselves to answer questions about United States history and government. They employed some unique study aids: linen, beads and embroidery loops that they held in their laps.
The group was part of an art workshop led by Aram Han Sifuentes, a South Korean artist inspired by her own process preparing for the U.S. citizenship exam. As she was studying 100 sample test questions, Sifuentes imagined hand embroidering the test questions on a linen sampler.
During Colonial American times, Sifuentes explained during her afternoon workshop at Seattle’s Wing Luke Museum, needlework samplers were used to teach young girls the alphabet, numbers and how to sew. The samplers were also used by suitors to measure the likelihood of someone becoming a good wife.
So to show her own worthiness of becoming an American, the Chicago-based Sifuentes started stitching a sampler of 100 questions and answers that might appear on the citizenship test. The price of the 22-foot-long sampler, which she began in 2012, is $725 — the cost of the U.S. Citizenship application. Sifuentes recently sold it though it was still incomplete.
Now she teaches embroidery basics as well as civics through her art workshops. “We study through the act of sewing,” she said.
At the free workshop, Sifuentes fired off questions to the group:
Question #48: There are four amendments to the Constitution about who can vote. Describe one of them.
#57: When must all men register for the Selective Service?
#62 Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?
The one participant who knew almost all the answers was Otts Bolisay, who is not yet a U.S. citizen.
“Citizens eighteen (18) and older.”
“At age 18.”
Someone else chimed in an answer: “Thomas Jefferson.”
As needles stitched sentences onto the linen fabric, conversations among the participants sprung up about immigration, politics, culture and daily life. The group of strangers, ranging from children to retirees and spanning all ethnicities, form friendships in this improvised sewing circle.
Some treasure the sampler they’ve made and take it home. Others give theirs to Sifuentes to add to her art project. If she sells it, the artist gives the money back to the person who embroidered it to put towards their own citizenship application fee. Or, to donate to someone else.
For more information on the project, or to purchase a sampler, go here.