The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine Update

In the beginnings of chapter three, Fertility, Chastity and Power, Rozsika tells us of the importance of embroidery during the 13th century onwards, how it was seen as akin to painting and sculpture, but only in the instances where it amplified the power of the church, the crown or the nobility. Although embroidery was growing in popularity for secular uses, the church was strictly prohibiting convents to creating only ecclesiastical artefacts. Touching on many of the points that’s she already went over in the second chapter, namely the legends surrounding female saints; Rozsika goes into more depth telling us of ta group of highly religious women who moved to set up their own convents, sustained by their embroidering ability, but was quickly dissolved by the church of 1312. It was at this point where secular embroidery was becoming much more popular, that women seem to have dropped out of the records of the major production of embroidered good at this time. Which is quite curious, why would women who have honed their talents and skills within the embroidery field, suddenly stop when their craft was coming into high demand? Rozsika looks into how Victorian historians impress that most workshops seem to have suddenly been populated by ‘mostly men’. Here it seems to be that one of two things must be true, either women of the time actually did draw away from the high demand of embroidery that had suddenly emerged and indeed turning their craft and skills over to male embroiders, or as Rozsika implies, that the, obviously male, historians of the time, changed facts so that the overall image of these embroiders for the king, was male,  which at the time would have been much more acceptable idea, having men produce such works that were suitable for a king.

Throughout the rest of the chapter, Rozsika looks at the different portrayals of women within religious iconography. The opinion of the church as opposed to the opinion of the embroiders of the time, the dual outlooks on childbirth, at once being a sinful act, that the pain of childbirth is punishment for the sins of Eve, and then the view that childbirth is a time to rejoice and celebrate the trails of the two lives involved.

As well as the prominence of the importance of virginity, the goddess-worshipping and the removal of the sin from earthly women.

The more I read of this book the more shocked I get by the attitudes towards women and embroidery. I find the actions and the beliefs of leaders of this time ludicrous compared to the attitudes of the society that I’ve grown up in. The widely different roles through the ages is baffling when I think of the way that I live, the freedom I have to practise my embroidery as an art form, not having to do it only for ecclesiastical purposes or as a way to pass the time until my husband comes home. I am free to learn and develop and build a career from my skill, which wasn’t possible for all these women who have come before me.