This Week in History: Needlework in the Montessori Classroom

Maria Montessori (1870–1952), well-known as an education innovator, opened her first school—Casa dei Bambini in Rome—on January 6, 1907. Although qualified as a doctor (and the first woman to enter medical school in Italy), Montessori’s interest in education soon became her overwhelming passion. Her legacy continues to thrive.

Here’s the needlework connection to this date:

Montessori, like other contemporary education innovators such as John and Alice Dewey (1859–1952 and 1858–1927, respectively) and Rudolph Steiner (1861–1925) believed that various forms of needlework were an essential part in the curriculum of their schools and that being introduced to needlework at an early age motivated learning. Thus, knitting, embroidery, sewing, spinning, dyeing, and weaving were taught to children.

Maria Montessori

Photograph of Maria Montessori. Circa 1910–1915. George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.

Linda Moore’s article on Montessori and other education pioneers in the September/October 2004 issue of PieceWork is enlightening. Here’s a brief excerpt from “Working on the Spirit of the Child: Needlework in Classrooms”:

  • Needlework, a key component of the curriculum for girls and young women in previous centuries, found a new role in these new, “object-based” curricula. Along with such hands-on activities as carpentry and cooking, embroidery and knitting were introduced to young students not as vocational training but as a means of awakening and shaping their intellect.

The American Montessori Society website features Maria Montessori’s biography, along with a section of her quotes.

A PieceWork mandate has been to chronicle the roles of needlework in education and needlework for and by children. This began with the Premier Issue (March/April 1993) and Deborah Cannarella’s article, “To Ornament Their Minds: Sarah Pierce’s Litchfield Female Academy, 1792–1833,” and continues.

To Maria Montessori, our thanks for making sure your students learned needlework. To Sarah Pierce and the other educators who taught needlework in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries, primarily in America and Europe but in other countries as well, we salute you. To every current teacher who incorporates needlework into her or his curriculum, we are grateful.

Maria Montessori

Twelve-year-old Laurel Johnson embroidering a tea towel. Photo by Joe Coca.

We are also grateful to all of the young embroiderers, knitters, and crocheters currently enjoying the world of needlework. We asked Laurel Johnson, a seventh grader from Loveland, Colorado, to use one of the patterns in the “Easy Stitcheries for Little Fingers” column in the October 1926 issue of Needlecraft Magazine to stitch a vintage kitchen towel for the November/December 2013 issue. She used a purchased cotton tea towel, DMC embroidery floss (#332 Baby Blue, #334 Medium Baby Blue, and #827 Very Light Blue), and a sharps needle (affiliate links). The images shown above and below illustrate Laurel’s beautiful work.

Maria Montessori

Laurel Johnson’s finished embroidered tea towel. Photo by Joe Coca.

If you missed Kathy Troup’s article on Ann’s rag book in PieceWork’s Winter 2018 issue, I encourage you to check it out. Ann’s book and other examples were called “rag books” because they typically were constructed from scraps of fabric. Ann’s book features 4 exquisitely embroidered animals (shown below)—a lion, fox, badger, and camel. This wee book is captivating.

Maria Montessori

The animals from Ann’s Book made by Jeanne Mount in England in 1951. Collection of the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh, Scotland. Photo © the National Museum of Scotland.

All of our 2018 issues, including the Winter issue with Kathy’s article on the rag book and our May/June Lace Issue, are now available in our handy PieceWork 2018 Collection Download.

Many of the articles and projects from 2018 issues have been featured in blog posts. Here are just a few examples:


Enjoy more needlework by and for children in these issues of PieceWork!


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