The Subversive Stitch – Rozsika Parker

The Subversive Stitch – Rozsika Parker

This is a fabulous book – not for the faint-hearted as it is quite scholarly, but for anyone interested in history, feminism embroidery and social history it is a must read.

Here is the blurb …

Rozsika Parker’s now classic  re-evaluation of the reciprocal relationship between women and  embroidery has brought stitchery out from the private world of female domesticity into the fine arts, created a major breakthrough in art history and criticism, and fostered the emergence of today’s dynamic and expanding crafts movements.

The Subversive Stitch is now available again with a new Introduction that brings the book up to date with exploration of the stitched art of Louise Bourgeois and Tracey Emin, as well as the work of new young female and male embroiderers.  Rozsika Parker uses household accounts, women’s magazines, letters, novels and the works of art themselves to trace through history how the separation of the craft of embroidery from the fine arts came to be a major force in the marginalisation of women’s work. Beautifully illustrated, her book also 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.

Rozsika Parker, sadly she died in 2010, was an art historian, feminist and pyschotherapist who wrote about women, art and women’s place in the art world.

This is how Parker described this book

By mapping the relationships between the history of embroidery and changing notions of what constituted feminine behaviour from the middle ages to the 20th century, we can see how the art became implicated in the creation of femininity across classes and that the development of ideals and feminine behaviour determined the style and iconography of needlework.

The book is divided into eight chapters

The Creation of Femininity

Eternalising the Feminine

Fertility, Chasity and Power

The Domestication of Embroidery

The Inculcation of Femininity

From Milkmaids to Mothers

Femininity as Feeling

A Naturally Revolutionary Art?

This book is essentially about how needlework and femininity became synonymous and then how needlework was used to train and constrain women. However, it is also about how some women used embroidery in subversive ways to make a statement or to pass on a secret message. They took back something that was meant to be oppressive and made it their own (a bit like the recent pussyhat movement).

I wrote down so many quotes while I was reading this book that I could be here for days typing them out – I think it would be much better if you just read the book yourself. Take your time – there is a lot in it. I read it in 30 minute bursts.

I do have two small complaints – I wish the images were in colour (but that would make the whole thing too expensive) and I wish it was in chronological order rather than thematic.

More reviews …

>The Subversive Stitch by Rozsika Parker



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