Teacher Warrior 2022: Stich of Empowerment

This is the story of Simran Preet Kaur who empowers women by teaching them the art of embroidery at Pins and Needles.



Once upon a time, there was a lady who was trying to cope with a feeling best described as empty nest syndrome. She had spent beautiful years of her life with her children and now they had all departed to create a life of their own. With much time on her hands, she began tutoring a few kids from the nearby slums. Two of them would come to her house to study.

The students mentioned that their mothers were getting harassed at home. Physical abuse was common in their household, and so was alcohol rage. When the lady heard their stories, she instantly called for the distressed mothers. The next day, she spent time listening to their problems and taught them how to make cloth bags with simple stitching techniques. She gave them a yard of fabric from her house and promised twenty rupees per bag to the women. The women took the materials and returned with ten bags each in two days. The lady was more than satisfied, for she had just taught them a lesson on financial independence. This is the story of Simran Preet Kaur who empowers women by teaching them the art of embroidery at Pins and Needles.

Simran was blessed with a healthy life and family. She wanted every woman to have that happiness and satisfaction. The two women created a ripple effect. Simran would greet a new student every day and she shared her craft of crochet, knitting, embroidery and stitching with them.

Challenges along on the way


Women around the world were deeply affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. An increase in inequalities was experienced both, at work and at home. Official employment surveys have shown that this century has been observing a sharp decline in women’s participation in India’s labour force. The nationwide lockdown also had a major impact on the employment rate when more than 100 million Indians lost their jobs in weeks. With businesses shut, many were forced to return to their home town or village and never found another stable employer.

The number of working women in India dropped from 26 per cent to 19 per cent between 2010 and 2020, according to a report by World Bank. Economists in Mumbai estimated that female employment would only increase to 9 per cent by the end of 2022. Little progress has been made towards improving the prospects for working women. Even with the nation’s rapid expansion, employment opportunities in rural areas are a far-fetched dream. It is also where more than two-third of the country’s population resides. Simran’s initiative provided aid to many women who were capable and in desperate need of work.

When the pandemic hit, most women took to their skills to deal with the disruption. Pins and Needles welcomed everyone who knew a thing or two about embroidery and encouraged sharing the techniques amongst each other. The digital world challenge was met with training and soon, the ladies were able to share photographs of their products online, create groups and enable digital payments for the purchase. More than a hundred women artisans produced thousands of stylish, embroidered masks for local residents, police and sanitary workers.

“It was interesting to watch them feel confident; they were now the sole earning member,” Neetu said. “Even the husbands helped them in knitting once they realised that it was bringing food to the table. The kids joined too, helping them write names and addresses for the orders. So, it became a family project during the pandemic,” she added.

 Innovative method of teaching


At Pins and Needles, the students are first taught the different types of stitches and embroidery styles on a plain cloth for three months. The classes are for crochet, knitting, embroidery and stitching where the students alternate every week. The students have stitched aprons, masks, and bags, and have knitted hats, caps, socks and mittens that are in huge demand during Delhi winters. The production and work depend on the demand with crochet work being in high demand throughout the year.

Currently, there are over 70 girls working with Pins and Needles. They are divided into different categories according to the style of work, with 12-15 girls in each group. To place an order, the customer comes in contact with Simran through Whatsapp, and she shares the request in her Pins and Needles group. The head of the group is then connected with the customer. Depending on the demand, she appoints girls of the group to work with her and the final payment is divided accordingly. The money is directly transferred to their bank accounts, ensuring trust and transparency.

From the age of 15 to 95, Pins and Needles is open for anyone who wants to learn or teach the art of embroidery. “I started with a few and there were about 80 girls at one point in time. However, most of them got jobs in nearby boutiques and I have never been happier. I don’t intend for them to stay with me for too long. A year or two of learning, and then I would want to see them working and making their own designs,” Simran said. “Age is never an issue for us. We help in employing even the old grandmothers who look for something to keep themselves busy. I knew that my mother was into crochet in her time, so I asked her to make a sample of dolls for us. She gave me a treasure to cherish for life, and many can do that. All they need is a little encouragement and guidance,” she added.

Pat on the back

The art of embroidery is done with a bowed head and lowered eyes. This is a symbolic act of patience, focus and hard work. Stitcher Betsy Greer is credited with popularising the term ‘craftivism’ to describe the intricate art of hand embroidery. Simran Preet Kaur is not only building a strong foothold for women in the craft industry, but she is also helping to revive the dying art.


Call for action

Simran and Pins and Needles do not believe that money is the solution to all problems. Therefore, they accept donations of fabrics, laces, kits, sewing machines, and anything that can contribute to the learning and empowerment of women. We urge the readers to visit their website and reach out to the members to contribute and engage in this cause for change.


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