Today’s instalment features a guest post by Sandra who works in our Australian Manuscripts Collection. A keen needleworker, Sandra has been keeping the Arts Library “on the ball” as far as this aspect of our collection is concerned, and here she highlights just a few of her favourite things.
A keen needleworker? Cross stitcher? Needlepointer? Embroiderer? Are you tired of hearing phrases such as ‘shabby chic’, ‘on trend’, ‘retro’, and so forth? So am I. Time to highlight some recent (and not so recent) books on the history of needlework, particularly its importance to women’s history. A couple of titles will look at the lighter side of stitching and demonstrate the quirky directions it has taken today.
A look at how sewing was essential in an era of “make do and mend” – the few materials available were used and reused, often in inventive ways. The choice of thread and fabric available to us today could not even be imagined by wartime Britain, or Australia for that matter. The book demonstrates the reasons why Hitler’s strategy to starve Britain into submission by depriving it of raw materials (the U-boats wreaked havoc on the merchant navy in the early stages of the war) failed, owing to the thrift, creativity, and determination of the British people.
This is one of the few sources I have seen which stresses the therapeutic benefits of teaching convalescent soldiers to stitch, even including a photograph. Stitching for victory is probably partly responsible for the make-do-and-mend type projects which we are now subjected to in our favourite stitching magazines.
In praise of the needlewoman : embroiderers, knitters, lacemakers, and weavers in art by Gail Carolyn Sirna
Works of art depicting women throughout the ages, poised for action with their needles. Shows how needlework – be it embroidery or knitting – has been a powerful unifying force for women regardless of race or social status. In Praise of the Needlewoman is also a stunning coffee table book.
This publication offers a slightly different slant on the history of needlework. The emphasis is on women utilising their skills for economic gain. The growing popularity of textiles in the home – due in no little way to the influence of William Morris – opened up employment opportunities for those handy with a needle and thread. The commercial activity surrounding the craft is explored in detail, examining its impact upon the economy.
Although this book concentrates upon the needlework of Mary, it also provides an intriguing look at the place of needlework in the social milieu, key personalities of the era, and the meaning of the emblems. My favourite piece is the exquisite portrait of a dolphin, which includes Mary’s crowned initials. Includes details of Mary’s surviving work and where it is located. Needlework occupied much of Mary’s time and must have been a comfort both before and during her long years of imprisonment.
Given that the State Library holds the five volume set of Audubon birds of America in our Rare Books collection, it seems appropriate to highlight this tribute to Audubon, found during a trawl through the British Library’s catalogue. A copy was located and added to our Arts collection. It contains charts for selected birds.
However, if you are into alternative and subversive stitching, here is a title which may appeal. And it is written by a man which may encourage more male stitchers to come out of the closet. For those who hate ‘cute’ and have an interest in popular culture, this is the book for you. How can you resist projects such as alternative Christmas cards, laptop covers, and a burlesque zombie!
Finally, just a few useful and informative websites: