By Rozsika Parker
The Subversive Stitch
In this book, author Rozsika Parker re-evaluated the reciprocal relationship between woman and embroidery into the fine arts. Embroidery has always been related to female domesticity. The status of embroidery declined: a major art form in the Middle Ages, practiced by both men and women. By the 19th century, it was regarded as specifically feminine, domestic, and low in the artistic hierarchy. It also considered ‘sweated labor’, the sewing done by working women, which is an issue just as relevant today.
In particular, she examines embroidery and how it has historically been both a source of pleasure and creativity and a source of oppression:
Embroidery has been the means of educating women into the feminine ideal, and of proving that they have attained it – witness the history of samplers, for instance – but it has also proved a weapon of resistance to the painful constraints of femininity. […] Limited to practicing art with needle and thread, women have nevertheless sewn a subversive stitch, managing to make meanings of their own in the very medium intended to foster polite self-effacement.