How to Start a Clothesline Project

Dear Clothesline Project Organizers,

The Clothesline Project is a visual display of shirts with graphic messages and illustrations that have been designed by women survivors of violence or by someone who loves a woman who has been killed. The purpose of the Project is to increase awareness of the impact of violence against women, to celebrate a woman's strength to survive and to provide another avenue for her to courageously break the silence that often surrounds her experience.

Since its inception, Clothesline Project organizers have been moved by the power of the stories contained in these shirts. Women from around the country have joined our efforts to educate by telling their stories, by hanging their shirts on a line, and by making connections with other survivors. These efforts are critical to the healing process and ultimately, to ending the cycle of violence.

The impact of the Project has been widespread, thus realizing our goal to expand the Project across this nation and beyond. As of 2001, there are "Clotheslines" in over 500 communities and several foreign countries.

We are sending this packet of information to you in the hope that you will want to begin your own Clothesline Project. At some time in our lives, everyone will be touched by the threat of this most intimate of violences. The Clothesline Project provides one way to give every woman a voice and a place to be heard. Many survivors who have participated in the Project feel that making a shirt has been an integral part of their healing and recovery process. The Clothesline serves as both a moving tribute and a vital means of conveying the enormity of the problem of violence against women.

Suggestions for Starting
Your Clothesline Project

Enclosed are a few suggestions for starting your own Clothesline. We're sending this information along to you for several reasons. We want to share all the basic helpful hints we've picked up during moren than nine years, and we want to share the vision, goals, and values of the Clothesline Project. One of the most difficult things that we have been working on is a process to maintain consistency of purpose and program among the various "Clotheslines" around the country. Our purpose in this is not to control, rather to maintain the integrity and clear message of the Project. In order to achieve this, we have devised the following boundaries that we require all "Clothesline Projects" to honor.

1. Violence against women must be the foundation and focus of all "Clothesline Projects". All publications (brochures etc.) must be clearly state this as our main purpose.

2. Only shirts to be submitted, please (no pants, underwear, etc.). Originally there was a color code that gave us a visual "statistic" regarding the types of violence to which women were exposed. That color code was established as follows:

White -- Women who have been murdered as a result of sexual or domestic violence.
Red, pink or orange -- Women who have been raped or sexually assaulted
Yellow or beige -- Women who have been battered
Blue or green -- Women survivors of incest or child sexual abuse
Purple or lavender -- Women attacked because they were or were thought to be lesbian.
Black or gray -- Your choice of designation (for example, it has been brought to our attention that there should be a color for handicapped women who have been either physically or sexually abused specifically because they could not escape their attacker.) Our Monterey CA clothesline uses black for gang rape.)

The Cape Cod Clothesline (the original CP) has found it difficult to continue with the color code because organizers spend so much time educating in middle and high schools as well as colleges. The schools provide shirts and supplies for shirt making while the project is on display. Since it is often easier to buy a package of shirts that are all one color. We often get shirt colors that do not match the original color code. For example there are now hundreds of white shirts on the Cape Cod Clothesline that have nothing to do with a woman being murdered. Please use your best judgment as to what will work for you and the constituents you serve.

3. There can be no charge or fee required by any "Clothesline Project" for making a shirt and hanging it on the line.

We realize that flexibility is essential. Groups may undertake whatever alternate, adjacent or additional programs they wish as long as it is clearly presented as not being a component of the "Clothesline Project."

Forming a Group

You may want to start your own group around the project or adopt it as part of a larger agenda for an existing organization or center. Keep in mind that it takes a lot of time and energy if you want to use the project as an educational tool that reaches the widest audience.

The project brings up a lot of feelings for those working with it and those in the community at large. You may wish to build some type of support for yourselves into the structure of your meetings. We begin and end each meeting and display with a check-in so that we remain in touch with ourselves and each other as we do this work. We also set aside time occasionally to deal with the impact the project has on each of our personal lives. Creating a safe space that works for you and your group is absolutely essential.

Because of the nature of this project, maintaining confidence is crucial. Discussions at our meetings are confidential except for decisions made and planned actions. If asked to do so, we maintain the anonymity of those hanging shirts on the Clothesline. We run our meetings by consensus, rotating facilitators with no one person "in charge". We recommend that you adopt whatever structure works best for you.

Building a Clothesline Project
in Ten Easy Steps!

1. Write to the National Network and tell us your intentions and when you hope to have your first display. This will allow us to add you to our national list and when to expect photos to add to this website. Afterwards, email full size (not small) photos of your project to be added to this website.

2. Find or create an event that would be suitable for the first display. Some of the places that we have held our displays are on town greens, and at the State House. Many of these have been in conjunction with occasions such as International Valentine's Day, International Women's Day, Take Back the Night, Mother's Day, the Montreal Massacre etc. We have found that the most successful events are those that allow people to really focus on the Clothesline. You may want to network with others working on violence against women.

3. Get a copy of our camera-ready brochure and duplicate it as you see fit, making whatever changes you need to reflect the history and purpose of your group, whom to contact, where to send shirts, etc. Also, adding statistics for your area helps make people aware of the extent of the problem in your location. Rape crisis centers and battered women's shelters often have this information.

4. Distribute the brochure and flyers about the first display event to all groups concerned such as rape crisis centers, women's organizations, churches, mental health/counseling centers, police stations, courthouses, colleges, schools, hospitals, etc.

5. Distribute the brochures and a press release to media contacts. The Clothesline Project is a good way to get the attention of your local news sources. However, experience has taught us that those who chose to participate in interviews need to be aware and prepared in advance. Especially as it's possible that not all reporters are as sensitive as we would desire. Having had issues with the media invading the privacy of those at a display, we have found that a specific, limited and published time for a press conference is helpful. A simple guideline is - no pictures without the express consent of those to be photographed and organizers might want to scan the crowd and talk with those they think might be willing to be interviewed before sending a reporter in.

6. Many women prefer the additional support of making their shirt together with others. Shirt-making sessions are very helpful and help build community.

Finding shirts for survivors to use to tell their story: You might ask everyone you know to clean out their closets for shirt donations. We've found that some women actually prefer old shirts. You might want to bring your brochure to local businesses and ask them to donate shirts and markers. These supplies are also made available at tables with chairs. The shirt making area is usually set up near a display - a bit out of the way to provide privacy. Some women need to have materials available to create their shirt when they first see the display (we often get 5-20 shirts at a major display). Others may want to take a shirt home and work on it. Remind those working at the display that shirts need to be dry before they are hung or transported.

*** HINT: Reconsider the use of fabric, puff paints or glue at shirt-making displays. They are slow to dry and puff-paints remain "tacky", causing printing to stick together when being stored in suitcases between displays. Permanent markers and acrylic paints work well. Both dry quickly.***

7. Assemble clothesline and clothespins and attach the shirts to the line at your first display. It is important that shirts that have statements on both sides be displayed so that both sides are visible. Some women will want to have their shirts hung next to friends or family. While the entire line is not organized by color, we find the visual impact increases with small sections in the same color code. However, we also want each shirt to have its own distinct space so we often alternate light and dark colors (i.e. light blue next to dark blue next to green etc.)

*** We leave the shirts on the line when we dismantle it (we fold it up accordion-style - 1st shirt back to 2nd shirt back 2nd shirt front to 3rd shirt front, etc.) Leaving shirts hung on the line makes it much simpler and faster when you set up the next display. (When you start to accumulate 50 - 100 shirts this will save hours of hanging time!!)***

Some women have submitted written pieces with their shirts and whenever possible, we post them with/on their shirts.

8. You might want to keep track of your shirts and when possible, who made them, when and where. It can become an important component in honoring each woman's history. As shirts come in you might want to put a number, mark or other "clue" written in indelible ink, inside the collar. Some projects also keep a logbook with those numbers, photographs of the shirts and other pertinent information. Many women will submit shirts but not be comfortable with revealing anything else about their shirt. They may also opt not to have it displayed. It doesn't matter - what's important is that each person feels they have a voice.

9. There are several other items to consider before your first showing. Displays may be viewed by both survivors and perpetrators since it may address issues of violence where the violence is taking place, i.e. in our own home towns. Two suggestions on this: Determine in advance whether or not you will have any survivor notification policy. Survivors may be upset to run into their shirts unexpectedly. We have an agreement that all displays will be publicized well in advance so that survivors have access to this information through the media. Since we recognize the connections between all oppressions and the underlying (sometimes blatant) racism in our society, we feel that it is very important to ask survivors not to specify the race of the perpetrator. We do this on a one-to-one basis as the situation demands. Sensitivity around these issues is important to the success of the project.

*** Please ask survivors not to name their perpetrators by both the first and last name unless they have been convicted of that particular crime. Our best legal advice has told us that this policy is the best way to avoid any type of lawsuit.***

10. We incorporate sounds into our displays to compliment the visual impact of the Clothesline. For instance, we bang a gong (pot lid) every 9 - 10 seconds to symbolize a women being battered, blow a whistle every 1 - 2 minutes to indicate a rape and ring a bell every 15 minutes to indicate how often a woman is murdered in this country. An mp3 of these sounds is available to download here.

11. You might want to keep tissues handy and be prepared for an intense emotional experience. We feel that having support available for people viewing the display is important. We try to maintain an awareness of the individual and, if it seems appropriate, approach them with a sympathetic word, tissue, eye contact, whatever seems comfortable. We have referral information on hand regarding local crisis/counseling centers, and other support services, as well as written resource materials. Whenever possible we also provide more private, safe areas with local counselors on hand. Think about ways that your can design these into your set up.

Please be sure to take time to support yourselves through de-briefing, check-ins, lots of hugs and any supervision that is appropriate for you and your group. Please stay in touch and let us know how you are doing. Feel free to contact us if we can help in any way. This way we can all learn from each other and keep connected first with our hearts and then with our lines. Good luck and thanks!

Submit your project photos to:

Please send large full-size images.

Submit your project photos to:

Please send large full-size images.