Friday, January 08, 2010

But you'll love it

hand and machine pieced 'water' fabric for the twig cross meditation banner, approximately 4 feet square so far, damask, silk and cotton.

I am currently leading a lengthy slow cloth project in my community and am flabbergasted by a recent realization I've come to about my generation. So many regard sewing as something they can't do. It's not because they are unable, it's because it was seen as a gender based menial activity in our formative years. These women may garden, they may bake, but sew? Nope. I get so much peace and satisfaction from handling thread and cloth myself that this baffles me. Some of us come to thread naturally, like my daughters, but there are just as many on the other side and I'm finding this out. "I'll make tea, but I won't sew" they tell me when I invite them to join the project. "I'll buy the thread, but please don't ask me to thread a needle." Things like that. At first, I thought they just needed to be encouraged, like the men who walk by and shake their heads and smile. But its something deeper. I think that if these women sewed, they would threaten something within themselves. When I told a professional woman that there was no need to worry, I would show her how to do things, she told me that sewing was something she just would not do.

That's when I realized that she thought it would be a waste of her time. So as we in our clique of needles and threads pat each other about the slow cloth we spend our days with, we might remember those who have not yet found "the way". The lost ones. The women who do not know how to do a running stitch and do not want to know.

p.s. I have been enjoying working one on one with both experienced stitchers and non-sewers these last few months.


  1. Anonymous4:41 pm

    A lot of these women are guilty of perpetuating the low esteme textile work has in the community.
    They are happy to pat you on the head and accept a handmade textile gift from you, but place little value on it personally.
    Have been stabbed in the back a few times.
    At our local Hospital fete these women will pay huge amounts for a home made fruit cake or jar of jam, but look down their noses at beautiful handmade gifts on a craft stall, and only want to pay a pitance.
    You can lead a horse to water but you can't make it drink, I have given up on trying to include them in the fun of hand made.
    I know this is not a good attitude, but it is my honest reaction to there textile snobery.

  2. this is quite a key issue. i used to stitch on a commuter train, i was amazed at how many women gave me a cruel glance. as if i didn't belong on the same train as a working woman. which i was by the way, a fairly high ranking woman executive for many years. what is the stigma attached to sewing.
    and let me add that most of the conversation that did happen was with men who remembered their grandmothers stitching.

  3. I have not had the negative attention Jude had while public stitching. Many of the people want to see what I am doing. Most are very surprised when shown the work as it is not the cross stitch they expected to see. Comments have run the gammut from a simple 'wow' to a frowned ' different...'. I have found it to be true that woman in my age group,say forty through sixty, do not know how to sew or really want to sew but have talked of Grandmothers who stitched. I hope we will see a change in that. With the economy taking its nose dive I find more and more people talking about learning to sew. As far as an acceptable art form, well, we will just have to keep putting it out there and pushing a bit perhaps.

  4. This is an interesting discussion. Thank you for your comments.

    I would like to add that as well as discovering women of that 40-60 age range who say they don't want to stitch, I am finding a large number of very enthusiastic new art quilters in my own local community who absolutely love it and are energized by it and feel satisfied by the beautiful work they can create with their own two hands. It's beautiful.

  5. do you think the attitude is linked at all to the feminist movement at that time? (curiosity - as I know it can be a sticky issue.)

  6. This is a fascinating point. But I wonder about something. Are these women as opposed to cooking as they are to sewing? What makes some types of "women's work" fashionable or, at the very least innocuous, and others pathetic or unworthy? Both are creative outlets. Both can be delegated either to factories in Asia or the deli down the street. Both can be practiced meditatively. Is sewing somehow more potent or threatening than cooking?

  7. I ran into this attitude a lot back home but since i have moved to France I haven't once. Although many dont seem to sew they seemin awe of my work and treat it respectfully. One girl in particular when I gifted her with a purse was just thrilled and had to show it to everyone. I wonder if this is a culteral attitude?

  8. I have to agree with Jeana Marie. At the risk of stepping on toes, I think it does have a lot to do with the feminist movement at the time. I'm 55, and I can remember that women were strongly encouraged to turn away from traditional roles. It's sad in a way, because I think a lot of important things were lost. The feminist movement was supposed to be about increasing the choices available to women. But I found that the only choices that were acceptable were the new choices, not the old ones.

    I touched on this point a little bit yesterday on a post on my blog, since I'm using a thread called "darning silk" to quilt a project. This goes back to the days when women actually darned socks, which is really another lost art.

    I'm glad you brought this up, because it's something that needs to be discussed.

  9. I turned 60 in September, so I am right in the demographic of the discussion. I learned to sew at four years of age, making a cross stitch piece for children. My mother and grandmothers sewed, and I sewed all of my clothes until I was in my mid-twenties.

    Sewing was economical, I could have more clothes if I sewed them myself. I took a great deal of pride in being able to do this.

    In college, as a hippy, sewing and hand embroidery fit with that era, but I was also a feminist, and though I definitely remember that traditional "women's roles" were questioned, I just tried to "do it all", as I longed to be a mother and found sewing and embroidery and crochet, etc, etc to be art forms I loved.

    I am happy that I have found, through this and other blogs, a community of women who also feel that hand-making with fiber is not only practical, but a satisfying art form as well.

    Great discussion!

  10. Me too Gwen. I loved all things thread from an early age . At ten I embroidered pre-stamped pillowcases, at eleven I learned to crochet granny squares, at 13 I knit my teenage brothers, sisters and parents unwearable outfits for chrismtas presents. This continued on into the hippy early 70's when I made myself long skirts and knit sweaters for my new husband. I then embroidered peasant maternity blouses and made all my friends baby quilts or buntings for their babies. Stitching of all kinds came naturally to me and I never cared if it was considered politically menial. I just loved doing it.
    So , there are some that do and some that don't and that's the way the world is.

  11. Hey Judy, thanks for finding me, and commenting on my blog. I have just spent some time slowly cruzing around your sites and I love all of your art and your blog.

    Interesting what you say here about our generation not being into stitching. I agree with you. Personally, I think that it has a lot to do with the introduction of our modern lifestyle, and cheaper less durable clothes that go out of fashon like yesterday.


  12. Anonymous10:05 am

    What a fascinating post and comments. I too have worked (played) with thread and fabric from a very early age, and in my local community of friends I can think of just one who does anything with needle and thread. Most of my friends are politely enthusiastic about my work, but show little interest in the process.

  13. I'm adding to this interesting conversation as the cow's tail to say that I have many friends who consider themselves Enlightened and Intellectual. We enjoy stimulating conversations, tis true, but let me mention a cloth project in conversation, and they sniff and tell me how they once did cross stitch in a tone that assures me they've outgrown such pursuits that are of no use, of no consequence, beneath them. Sigh.


Thank you for taking the time to connect. Much appreciated.xx