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For the women of McCormick, a new space in which to create

MIT residence hall opens a craft studio to promote creativity and belonging.
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Residents of MIT's McCormick Hall celebrate the launch of a new craft studio.
Caption:
Residents of MIT's McCormick Hall celebrate the launch of a new craft studio.
Credits:
Photo: Maisie O'Brien
McCormick residents and their friends in action at the craft studio
Caption:
McCormick residents and their friends in action at the craft studio
Credits:
Photo: Maisie O'Brien
Maryanne Kirkbride (center), MindHandHeart's executive administrator, with Emma Johnson (left), area director at McCormick, and Lily Gabaree, learning designer at MIT Media Lab
Caption:
Maryanne Kirkbride (center), MindHandHeart's executive administrator, with Emma Johnson (left), area director at McCormick, and Lily Gabaree, learning designer at MIT Media Lab
Credits:
Photo: Maisie O'Brien
Supporters of the McCormick craft studio
Caption:
Supporters of the McCormick craft studio
Credits:
Photo: Maisie O'Brien

Outdated wall art has been replaced with a whiteboard for ideas, couches with an ergonomic work bench, and an old coffee table has made way for a 3-D printer. This is the new craft studio at McCormick Hall that has transformed a previously under-to-unused room into a thriving studio for crafts lovers.

Creating and crafting has long been a tradition at McCormick, MIT’s only all-women dormitory. To honor this tradition, McCormick has had a sewing room since 1967, although its drab ambience and lack of organization had dampened its usage.

“The original sewing room was basically the size of a closet and it was dark, unused, and really cluttered. We wanted a nicer space that more people would be able to use,” says sophomore Nyssa Miller, a resident and chair of sewing at McCormick.

In order to establish a more creative and welcoming space, Nyssa approached Emma Johnson, area director at McCormick, and Lily Gabaree, learning designer at the Media Lab. They brainstormed with other residents of the dorm who showed interest in having a community space to create. With the support of the residents, Johnson and Gabaree applied to the MindHandHeart Innovation Fund and were awarded a grant to found a modern craft studio at McCormick.

“We were really lucky. The process actually went very smoothly. We asked students more about their interests and heard a lot of interest in crafting, 3-D printing, and fiber arts. We talked to the [staff] in the Women’s and Gender Studies Program, and they were really supportive and gave us some ideas about things that were happening on campus. We wrote the proposal for MindHandHeart, which was a great process, and we got funding,” says Gabaree.

After much renovation with the help of MIT Housing and Residential Services, the craft studio opened its doors to McCormick residents and their friends earlier this semester. The entire process, from planning to execution, was an exercise in community building.

The residents of the hall spent several nights assembling furniture from IKEA and organizing an array of crafting tools, including a sewing machine, a serger for advanced sewing, a button maker, a 3-D printer, and other essential supplies for embroidery, knitting, crochet, and woodworking.

One of the first big community projects undertaken in the studio was the creation of McCormick’s "next-generation quilt." A similar quilt was first designed by former residents on McCormick’s 50th anniversary six years ago to showcase the diverse ethnicities and cultures of the hall. It is now on display in the hall’s west tower.

“The McCormick Craft Studio is the fantastic result of a community effort initiated by Nyssa Miller, a McCormick resident, and led by our RLAD [residential life area director], Emma Johnson, who wrote the proposal for the MindHandHeart grant that made everything possible,” says Raul Radovitzky, professor in the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT and head of house of McCormick. “They had a vision to provide our community with another opportunity to express its creativity in 'non-traditional' ways. The room redecoration was done in consultation with Head of House Flavia Cardarelli. The students have been enthusiastically enjoying the new space and all the cool tools available.”

The studio’s founders believe the space encourages women to continue being creative outside of their academic and work lives. Having an in-dorm space, they attest, will help to foster social connections and reduce isolation.

“Because we are MIT, we are known as hackers and makers, and having that in our dorm actually helps propel the culture that we want as MIT students,” says first-year student Varnika Sinha, a resident in charge of the 3-D printer who conducts regular trainings to instruct residents in the technology.

Now that there is a dedicated space for crafts, Johnson and Gabaree plan to organize open craft nights and more hands-on workshops to engage McCormick’s vibrant community of makers.

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