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Volunteers' Week: Craftivism to support trans youth

Rosanna McNamara

Student Engagement Officer (Lifecycle)

01 June 2022

Rosanna McNamara is a King’s alum (MA Christianity and the Arts, 2015) and Student Engagement Officer (Lifecycle). For King’s Global Day of Service 2022 and Transgender Day of Visibility, Rosanna ran embroidery workshops for students and staff to create patches for Mermaids, a leading UK leading UK LGBTQ+ charity that supports trans, non-binary and gender diverse young people. In this feature for Volunteers’ Week, Rosanna shares why she wanted to run the workshops and how craftivism can make a positive difference.

780x440 Rosanna McNamara

When the Service team reached out to me with the idea of doing embroidery workshops to gift patches to Mermaids I was thrilled! I love teaching embroidery and knowing that the sessions would have a charitable cause, for an organisation that means a lot to me, I jumped at the chance to take part.


Mermaids are one of the UK’s leading LGBTQ+ charities, supporting trans, nonbinary and gender-diverse children, young people, and their families. The plan for the workshops was for participants to learn the basics of embroidery and then make a patch to gift to Mermaids’ beneficiaries.


The workshops formed part of King’s Global Day of Service in March, where students, staff and alumni participate in a range of volunteering activities to make an impact in local communities. We also organised the sessions to take place on 31 March to align with Transgender Day of Visibility, a day to celebrate trans and non-binary people and raise awareness of discrimination faced by trans people worldwide.

What does trans mean?

Trans is an umbrella term to describe people whose gender is not the same as, or does not sit comfortably with, the sex they were assigned at birth. Trans people may describe themselves using one or more of a wide variety of terms, including (but not limited to) transgender, gender-queer or non-binary.

But why embroidery? Well I’ve been embroidering for the past six years and have always loved textiles. I’m from an arts background, having studied fine art and art history for my undergraduate degree, but missed being creative for myself once I graduated and entered the world of work. I went to one introduction to embroidery session, much like the majority of participants at my workshops, and I’ve been stitching ever since. Embroidery is a fairly cheap and accessible craft, and I find it meditative and great for my mental wellbeing. Through teaching, I hope to pass on the skills I learnt and share the joys and benefits of being creative. I am slowly forming an army of embroiderers!

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More recently, I have been exploring Craftivism, a form of activism centred on practices of craft, and exploring how I can embed my values in my art. At the start of 2021, in the height of a second lockdown, I wanted to take a different route with my practice and decided to create a new piece focused on supporting trans rights (pictured above).


Transphobia is the UK has, and continues to be, on the rise. It is so important for us as allies to use our privilege and platforms to support and protect the trans community. Currently, there is action to ensure a ban on conversion therapy in the UK includes gender identity as well as sexual orientation. To find out how you can support, head to Mermaids’ website.


Putting needle to fabric, I slowly and meditatively stitched a message of immense importance, embodying the words as they formed. Since finishing this first piece, I have gone on to create others and now sell pieces on my Etsy, with a percentage of the sales being donated to Mermaids to continue my support.


With this in mind, I designed three patch templates for the sessions: a trans flag, a text piece with the words ‘TRANS RIGHTS’ and the mermaid tail from the Mermaids logo to make the designs bespoke. The text and mermaid tail template were kept simple to allow participants to put their own creative flair on the designs.

And that they did! As embroidery is a slow craft, participants were instructed to complete their patch at home after the session and return it to King’s for sending to Mermaids. I was overjoyed when I collected the finished patches, with some being totally unique designs. For many, this was their first time picking up a needle, so for them to create a finished patch is an incredible feat.

I absolutely loved the embroidery workshop! The session was great for those, like me, who had never tried it before. Not only was it a fun experience, but it was great to be able to support the amazing Mermaids. I will be first on the sign-up list next year! – Siobhan Morgan-McDermott, embroidery workshop participant

The patches were then sent to Mermaids in time for their residential weekend in mid-May, where the team could hand out the patches to the young people attending.

780x440 mermaids
We are really thankful for the fantastic sewn patches you provided, they were really popular with the families who attended the residential. It was lovely for the families to take them home and a way of remembering what was a brilliant weekend.– Sarah, Mermaids Volunteer Manager

It has been a real pleasure connecting with Mermaids, and I am grateful to the Service Team at King’s for giving the space and time to these sessions. I am pleased to say that I am doing a repeat of the workshops at a friend’s company in June for their Pride programme, where we will be making patches for young people on Mermaids’ new trans-led programme MANGO. I look forward to continuing my support of Mermaids and the vital work they do for trans youth.

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