Local artist stitches politics into handmade masks

Elizabeth Abraha started a business selling face coverings embroidered with powerful political statements on Instagram.

Elizabeth Abraha stitches a new mask at her home on Monday, Nov. 30. “I’ve always been a creative person, and now this is my way of making my thoughts real.”

Frankie Carlson, Arts and Entertainment Reporter

In the past eight months, masks have evolved as a new medium for self-expression. Whether it’s designs bought online or personal pieces made at home, state-mandated face coverings are now another piece of the outfit to be considered before venturing out into the world.

Minneapolis-based artist, Elizabeth Abraha, is taking this even further by showing that a mask can be more than a precaution for preventing the spread of COVID-19 — it can also be a canvas.

It has been just over a month since Abraha launched the Instagram page for her mask-making business, and she has quickly begun to accumulate a following. Under the name @thatcurlyhairedstitch, she showcases and sells hand-embroidered masks to the public weekly.

Each of her masks is made in unique styles and letterings, the majority of which display powerful political statements. “ACAB,” “Say their names” and “Burn it down” are just a few examples of the designs made available in previous weeks. With each Monday bringing a new set of designs, her followers never know what will be coming next.

On Mondays, Abraha posts a story on her Instagram showcasing the items available for that week, at which point customers message her with their selections. She wraps and packages the products herself and the next day makes personal deliveries to people in the Twin Cities area.

Abraha got her start in embroidery during the beginning of lockdown last spring. Stuck inside, she found the time to explore the craft, starting out by embroidering underwear and other clothes for herself.

“I’ve always been interested in it, but I never fully got into it until the pandemic. I had come back from Germany, and I did my two-week quarantine at home and obviously had nothing but time, so I spent it embroidering.”

Abraha got started on masks in July. Her first design of a pig beside the letters “ACAB” got the attention of her close friends who started asking when they could expect their own.

“Ever since then, everyone started asking me if I was selling them, so I made four more just to test it out and they sold out so quickly,” Abraha said. “It got to the point where I realized that I had something. So, I made them weekly.”

Ron Heichert, one of Abraha’s close friends, helps her make deliveries every Tuesday. He respects her originality as a creator and her newfound avenue to share her work with people who appreciate it.

“It all started organically,” Heichert said. “It was something that she loved to do, and it just happened to be that everybody else loves it too. It has really worked out in a positive way, and the community is behind her.”

Art and creativity have played a significant role in Abraha’s life from a very young age. Along with embroidery, Abraha also frequently works in photography, visual arts and other mediums, though mask-making now occupies most of her time.

“The one constant I’ve always had in my life has been art,” Abraha said. “It’s the one thing that’s come naturally to me. And even as a kid, I would always keep a notebook on me, and I’d always be drawing. It was my one accessory.”

Another friend and supporter of Abraha, Emily Finn, has been excited to see the attention that Abraha’s Instagram has been getting in the time that it has been up.

“It’s wild just like seeing the amount of people who are tagging Elizabeth in their stories or in their post because they’re wearing her masks,” Finn said. “Going to the grocery store, people have come up and asked me a couple of times if I’m wearing one of her masks, which is so exciting.”

As a natural artist who never expected her hobby of embroidery to evolve into an independent business, Abraha is excited about the future of her operation. She hopes she will be able to increase the scale of production while maintaining her handcrafted touch.

“I do think that these [masks] are a direct reflection of me,” Abraha said. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing something with the world if I didn’t feel strongly about it. Part of the reason why it was so difficult to say ‘yes’ to selling these in the first place because they fall in love with everything I do, and a little bit of me goes into every single one.”