The Stitches Doll Project is a community-based initiative that enables women and girls to express their feelings about living with HIV/AIDS through creating a doll that speaks for them. In a very personal and powerful way, women and girls are able to tell their stories both visually, through their dolls, and verbally/non-verbally, through their dolls’ monographs. The completed dolls become part of an online and traveling oral history exhibit. Based on an analysis of the dolls and their monographs, interviews with doll contributors and project coordinators, and archived Stitches materials, this paper explores the meaning making and identity work/repair articulated through textile creation and the cultural transmission of oral histories. Our analysis reveals four recurrent message themes: making sense of infection, the impact of HIV, the role of social support and connection, and educating others. These themes speak to the nature of the oral history the artists transmit via their dolls. As they design their contribution to the project at Stitches workshops, the healing benefits of creative engagement through textile artwork is made available to them. It is these two components of the project in combination that afford doll makers a unique opportunity to engage in a process of meaning making and identity work/repair. In the process they help advance public education efforts by challenging cultural beliefs regarding “the face of AIDS,” the experience of living with HIV/AIDS, and ultimately who is at risk for acquiring the virus and by poignantly calling attention to the variety of social factors (e.g., poverty, domestic violence, and sexual abuse and assault) that put women at risk for contracting HIV.


HIV/AIDS, Adapting to Illness, IdentityWork, Textile Art, Social Support, Education


As Kathy Gerus-Darbison is the director of the Stitches project, she has the copyright authority for the images and quotes used in this paper.

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