Jump to: navigation, search

Suzan van Dijk

Embroidery, networks and networking.


The connections between embroidery and female networking have been clearly formulated by the 18th-century French novelist Marie-Jeanne Riccoboni, who wrote in a letter to a friend: between friends we give each other “what our hands have made”. Admittedly “our (female) hands” did not just embroider, but also sew, knit, paint, play music, and: write (music or text).

Textile as well as text production are thus supposed to “weave” or to reinforce links between people, or to embellish these links (which is the function of embroidery). This connecting, weaving and networking between the maker and her environment – which of course can be female and male – is to be seen as the use of a language. In some cases this has been extremely clear. Jefimija’s embroidery (Belgrade) is one of the most “telling” examples, just as the tapestry (Bayeux) supposed to have been embroidered by queen Mathilda. In one of the best known 18th-century French novels, the Lettres d’une Péruvienne by Françoise de Graffigny, the heroine is using in a most concrete way threads for communication, and the nodes she is “weaving” as letters to her beloved. After existing Peruvian customs, Graffigny has thus completely mixed textile and text.

At some moment however women started to feel uneasy about occupations to be considered as belonging, or not, to the female sphere. Dutch novelist Elisabeth Wolff clearly expressed this in a pamphlet where she opposed the (writing) pen to the (sewing) needle – clearly preferring the former to the latter. Most probably not all of her female readers agreed with her.

In my paper I will consider the ways in which this “dilemma” is visible in the writings of some 18th- and 19th-century women authors:

  • novelists, who for their characters make use of the female tendency (or obligation) towards sewing or embroidery;
  • historians, who take seriously this aspect of women’s lives.

AsK, September 2012

Personal tools