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The Subversive Stitch Revisited: The Politics of Cloth

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The Subversive Stitch Revisited: The Politics of Cloth is a forum that addresses the legacy of feminist art historian Rozsika Parker’s pioneering publication, The Subversive Stitch: embroidery and the making of the feminine (The Women’s Press, London 1984); the art and feminist debates of the 1970s/80s from which both Parker’s book and the landmark 1988 Subversive Stitch exhibitions emerged; and the contemporary practices that are defining a politics of cloth for the 21st century.

The result is a programme of activities realised through the collaboration of the Whitworth Art Gallery, the Women’s Art Library and Pennina Barnett. It includes a symposium, related events, and this website.

The website is aimed both at those familiar with Rozsika Parker’s work, and new generations interested in cloth as a strategy for subversion and political engagement and the role of textiles within globalisation. It presents resources on current scholarship and art practices alongside archival material available online for the first time.

‌Exploring this website
The Subversive Stitch Revisited: The Politics of Cloth website is hosted by the Women’s Art Library at Goldsmiths as part of its programme of enriching encounters between the archive, contemporary artists and scholars. It presents important historical material about the exhibitions that toured in 1988 under the title The Subversive Stitch including the catalogue published by Cornerhouse, as well as ephemera and press that came out at the time - all featured in the Resources section and a gallery of original colour slides.

The conference November 2013
You will also find documentation of the proceedings of the symposium held at the V&A Museum in 2013. This includes podcasts and further readings compiled from suggestions from the symposium participants along with archival documents and 'A Tribute to Rozsika Parker' first published in Textile, The Journal of Cloth and Culture. Updated links to the websites of artists who exhibited in the original Subversive Stitch show will feature along with other contemporary practitioners in the Resources section.

Revisiting the Subversive Stitch
The Subversive Stitch: embroidery and the making of the feminine, Rozsika Parker’s ground-breaking study continues to inform how we think of the role of embroidery in Western culture, the construction of femininity and the practice of craft as a weapon of resistance to the constraints of women’s disenfranchisement. Published in 1984 the book explored how the status of embroidery declined: a major art form in the Middle Ages, practised by both men and women, by the 19th century it was regarded as specifically feminine, domestic and low in the artistic hierarchy. It also considered ‘sweated labour’, the sewing done by working women, which is an issue just as relevant today.

The project also marks 25 years since the opening of two major, complementary touring exhibitions that developed and disseminated Parker’s research to a wider public. The Subversive Stitch became the umbrella title for a historical survey entitled ‘Embroidery in Women’s Lives 1300-1900’, 200+ objects ranging from medieval vestments to embroidered suffrage banners, and for a large show of work by contemporary artists – ‘Women and Textiles Today’ – that asked provocative questions about the relationship between women, textiles and feminine stereotypes in the 1980s. This collaboration between the Whitworth Art Gallery and Cornerhouse in Manchester, resulted in the exhibitions touring to five further venues, attracting well in excess of 100,000 visitors in total.

This online resource will disseminate the contributions to the symposium and make accessible important archival material and useful related links to a new generation coming to the study of the role of textiles within a global context.