The Subversive Stitch- Rozsika Parker

The subversive stitch: embroidery and the making of the feminine- Rozsika Parker 2010

Book: The textiles Reader- Jessica Hemmings

1984-2010 is said to show no real progression for embroidery at first sight. The reading suggests a huge ‘diversity’ to embroidery as a craft or profession consistently throughout time. This is evident in the way people manipulate embroidery for their own purposes. The increased use of stitch for homecraft use is found scattered across the internet, particularly in places like pinterest where innovation and design is encouraged. Parker suggests there is a common financial recession between 1984 and 2010 that invigorates people into crafts and the homemade. Specifically, the term ‘DIY’ litters the internet as people are inspired to save and recycle.

“The London College of Fashion in August 2009 reported  that bookings for sewing classes had increased by almost a third in 12 months” suggesting an increased interest in traditional home methods, rather than the materialistic, frivolous nature we had fallen into after a rise in technology.

However, Parker points out that there is one evident change. Upon the first writing of her embroidery feminism book, there was a surge in the political women’s movement. The degrading of women and their ‘traditional’ practices (embroidery) were questioned. Along with the challenge for the appreciation of female artists.

Later, there was a ‘kickback’ at feminism. It was suggested that the movement was increasing stress within women, leading to ‘hairloss’ and ‘infertility’. Media is said to have played a huge role in encouraging the degrading of the feminist movement, redirecting peoples attention onto insignificant correlations to distract.

“The Quiet Pain of Infertility; for the success oriented its a bitter pill”

“Is your face paying the price for success?”

Even now I find these superficial headlines offensive, despite my lack of involvement in women’s struggles for equality. Their need to redirect attention to women’s traditional roles of motherhood and figures of objectivity shows their weak attempt at regaining control.

“Far from wishing to climb ‘the ladder’ we wanted to kick it away”- need to destroy the current social norms and reestablish equality.

Feminists were criticised for degrading women’s traditional crafts, supposedly having rejected all that chose the established practices. They were described as being “sad, ugly…and devoid of humour”. Hence why feminism has been reinstated with a softer approach after the main progressions had been made e.g the internet feminist magazine “the F word”.

Parker identifies the increase in  acceptance for arts and crafts as a profession, “We now take for granted the cross pollination of the arts and crafts”- Craft Magazine 2008. Methods alike to stitch has recently been employed as a form of art alongside traditional fine art means like sculpture. Crafts in general have been explored by many artists, e.g illustrators engaging in stitch as a method for drawing (Izziyana Suhaimi). The original ‘housewife craft’ of stitch embroidery is becoming appreciated and advanced.  The Museum of Arts and Design New York wrote an article on “extreme embroidery” in 2007 and “Radical lace and subversive knitting” in 2006. Karen Rosenburg reviewed these by saying;

“In the 70’s those who swapped their paint brushes for a needle and thread were making a feminist statement. Today as both men and women fill the galleries with crocheted sculpture and stitched canvas, the gesture isn’t quite so specific”

Although many things exhibited were only focused on the traditional methods, there were few artists who tackled the feminist subject matter, like “Christa Maiwald’s party dresses for little girls that were embroidered with images of male world leaders”. The use of a young girls dress also adds to the effect of this piece as she is suggesting this is the message we are passing onto our daughters.

On the other side of the fence, Parker talks of the men in the embroidery world and their struggles. Jamie Chalmers, the owner of a textile artist website, says “Its not always easy being a Manbroiderer, people sometimes can’t get their head around the fact that I’m six feet tall and yet I like stitching…I just want to help other people share that experience”. I agree that it is slightly different for men to step into traditional ‘women’s’ roles as it suggested to be emasculating. However, due to the women’s movement breaking down the gender barriers that were once so insistent, there is more flexibility. It could even be that now it is more acceptable for women to do typically men’s jobs than men for women’s jobs.

Female artists challenging the sexist ideals thought it more suitable to explore in an embroidery medium than the “male-associated paint”.

“Embroidery was one technique among many which could be combined in new ways to create forms of art truer to our skills and experiences”- Kate Walker “I have never worried that embroidery’s association with femininity, sweetness, passivity and obedience may subvert my work’s feminist intention. Femininity and sweetness are part of women’s strength… Quiet strength need not be mistaken for useless vulnerability.”



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