Has the pen or pencil dipped so deep in the blood
of the human race as the needle?
asked the writer Olive Schreiner.
The answer is, quite simply, no.
The art of embroidery has been the means of educating women
into the feminine ideal, and of proving that
they have attained it, but it has also provided
a weapon of resistance to the constraints of femininity.
To know the history of embroidery is to know the history of women.
extracted from The Subversive Stitch, Embroidery
and the making of the Feminine by Rozsika Parker
'....... she is silent when she sews,
silent for hours on end .......
she is silent, and she -
why not write it down the word that frightens me -
she is thinking.'
Colette, Earthly Paradise
Starting in the Middle Ages, a split developed between
embroidery which represented the feminine, the emotional and
the family and the intellectual life. For some
embroiderers this created a deep sense of conflict
which still exist today.
'I am a sociologist - I cringe - never say this - why?
Because it seems a lie. I care about my work,
but it is not part of me as are
patchwork and embroidery.
Should I try to make it so, is my sewing
a clinging to a dependent, passive childhood,
a female stereotype, or is it truly me?'
The Victorians identified embroidery with femininity in the context
of rigidly defined sex roles. Embroidery is still identified
with femininity, but the framework has changed.
Women have challenged the constraints of femininity and entered
previously masculine preserves. On the whole women no longer
embroider as a gesture of wifely or domestic duty.
'When I was growing up, all the women in my house
were using needles. I have always had a fascination with the
needle, the magic power of the needle. The needle is used
to repair damage.
Its a claim to forgiveness.
It is never aggressive.' - psychoanalyst Melanie Klein
The Subversive Stitch by Roszika Parker discusses the
contradictory nature of women's experience of embroidery:
how it has inculcated female subservience while
providing an immensely pleasurable source of creativity,
forging links between women.