On a very intuitive level, this quote by Mensie Lee Pettway of the Gee's Bend quilters has always made sense to me. Pettway continues: "It represents safekeeping, it represents beauty, and you could say it represents family history" (qtd. in Arnett et al 2002). As scraps of clothing are stitched into warm covers, memories of people and places are secured in every stitch and passed on to subsequent generations as comfortable and colorful treasures. Likewise, creative legacies surpass the limits of time as women transfer their knowledge of quiltmaking on to sisters, daughters, nieces, friends, and sometimes complete strangers. Though there are, of course, also men who quilt (Keep it up!), the practice is traditionally linked to women's spheres and for me, from the beginning, was strongly associated with female collectives, not least so because of the popular quilting bee. These gatherings not only provide the space to work on communal or individual projects, to share techniques, tricks, and patterns, but -and equally important- provide a women's space for supporting each other, sharing concerns and discussing everything from daily trifles to international politics. As varied as the quilts they make, as are the backgrounds and experiences of these women, different in age, class, nationality, race, religion, etc.
Yet, these collectives of skill and experience as well as their creative outputs have been and still are often looked down upon (by men and women alike) and casually degradated as 'women's work', as symbols of the feminine and domestic, and, consequently, of no importance. The women, their work, experiences and legacies are either placed strictly within heteronormative gender roles or outside of them. They are embraced by mainstream patriarchal society as long as they work in support of the feminine ideal of domesticity and virtue. They become sidelined as soon as they are appropriated in order to tell a different narrative, to tell of women's experiences. As a researcher, I'm interested in how these experiences -women's experiences- become manifested and narrated in and through practices of needlework and textile objects.
My thesis examines representations of needlework in women's writing and the relationship between the text and the textile. However, instead of categorizig these respresentations and relationships simply as "traditional and heteronormative" or as "progressive and empowering" I hope to expand and revise the already existing, but often constitutive and essentialist histories on women and needlework. Rather, I am interested in the radical political potential of the relationship between text and textile and the ways, in which this relationship may be utilized in feminist political activism. I will explore this radical political potential within past and current frameworks of power through a series of case studies of certain texts and textiles from the late nineteenth century up to twenty-first century examples of craftivism. By considering the figurative and actual connection between text and textile and between the personal and political, disciplinary boundaries will be crossed and discourses of female expression and empowerment will be revisited and reconstituted. Ultimately, I hope to answer to Ann Cvetkovich's call (2012) for the development of new methodologies and theoretical concept that allow for an articulation of the relation between the "the macro and the micro", between the personal and the political, between women's lives and neoliberal policies.
Wonder how that will work?
My next post will be an introduction to the different case studies. So stay tuned!