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  • Debra Scala Giokas

Barbara Bush and her Needlework

If you love to craft and give your handmade gifts as presents during the holidays, then you have something in common with First Lady Barbara Bush. She needlepointed as much as she advocated for literacy, and she was thoughtful in her gift giving.


In 1961, First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy began the tradition of selecting a theme for the White House Christmas tree. Following in that tradition and to share one of her favorite hobbies, Mrs. Bush selected the theme of needlework in 1991.


Scenes from 1991 at the White House.

Courtesy of the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum


White House staffers, family, friends (including many men), and 214 members of the “Saintly Stitchers” of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas, which Mrs. Bush continued to be a member of, needlepointed 1,200 decorations for the White House Christmas tree, and Mrs. Bush needlepointed three, including two rag dolls.




She needlepointed throughout the seasons and the years. Her largest piece was a needlepointed rug which measured eight feet by twelve feet. She begun this work in China in 1975 and later completed it in 1983, 17 countries and 36 states later. It consisted of eight panels that were woven together. While she was creating this work, to keep track of when and where she needlepointed, she journaled. This helped her keep track of what portion she worked on during which holiday or family occasion. She also stitched her initials in English and in Chinese, as well as those of her family members.


Mrs. Bush in China in early 1976; showing her work to friends; her completed rug.

Courtesy of the George H. W. Bush Presidential Library and Museum


“I wanted something that I wouldn’t outgrow, something that would last forever,” said Mrs. Bush. She taught her daughter Doro and her granddaughter Barbara, but perhaps it is their own Christmas stockings that her family will remember her by best. To continue the tradition, Barbara Bush worked ahead to make sure there were stockings on reserve for great-grandchildren yet to be born.


To learn more about Barbara Bush and other first ladies who did needlework, you may want to read my book, LADIES: FIRST, COMMON THREADS.




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