Cut Cloth Publication Essays
This collection of essays contemplates the rise in popularity of art textiles and its impact on its value as a specifically feminist mode of expression. Cut cloth looks toward strategies both artistic and theoretical that respond to these new challenges, drawing upon feminist legacies whilst acknowledging the shifting politics of cloth in contemporary culture. The book includes newly commisioned essays alongside documentation of the Cut Cloth exhibition at the portico Library.
Designer: Jordan Taylor
Cover Artwork: Sophie King
Graphic Design: Charley Blake Banks
The Cut Cloth book is now sold out.
Please click on pdf links below abstracts to download the essay files for personal reading. All work is copyright of the authors. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by photocopying or mechanical means, including information storage or retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the copyright holders and publishers of this book.
The Subversive Stitch Revisited
Pennina Barnett and Professor Jennifer Harris
In this essay we reflect upon the impact of Rozsika Parker's groundbreaking book, The Subversive Stitch: embroidery and the making of the feminine (The Women's Press, 1984), which examines the shifting notions of femininity and roles ascribed to women through embroidery from medieval time to the late 20C. We also discuss The Subversive Stitch exhibitions (Manchester, 1988), two independently researched but complementary - and expressly feminist - exhibitions curated by Jennifer Harris at the Whitworth Art Gallery, and Pennina Barnett and Bev Bytheway at Cornerhouse, which drew upon and extended Parker's ideas. Finally we consider the thinking behind The Subversive Stitch Revisited: The Politics of Cloth, an international symposium initiated and organised by Jennifer Harris, Pennina Barnett and Althea Greenan (held at the Victoria and Albert Museum, 2013), which looked back to these projects and also sought to explore what a politics of cloth might be for the 21st century.
Cloth, Language and Contemporary Art Discourse
Professor Janis Jefferies
The exclusion of textile from modern readings of art-history has served as a metaphor for the exclusion of certain social groups and political agendas. As such, textile, with its histories and connotations of craft, manual labour and class and gender divisions, had become a mirror image of certain communities in the socio-political fabric.
One of the key texts we had at Goldsmiths during my time on the textiles programmes, 1990-2002 was Rozika Parker who in her 1984 book, Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the making of the Feminine, made the connection between embroidery and the construction of the feminine, how social groups and the practices assigned to them can be positioned within the hegemonic political map. It is therefore timely that ‘Cut Cloth: Contemporary Textile and Feminisms’ will be launched at the Whitworth Art Gallery, in Manchester where the exhibition, ‘The Subversive Stitch’ was originally shown in 1988[i]. ‘ There is also a web site dedicated to the 'The Subversive Stitch ReVisited' hosted by the Women's Art Library at Goldsmiths. Goldsmiths.
The Ambiguous Ambivalence of Feminist Textiles
Dr Alexandra M. Kokoli
This short text grapples with the ambiguity of the cultural meanings and artistic deployments of textiles and craft, which are considered alongside the ambivalence with which feminism has imbued textiles. It explores the potential of craft towards both protest and the maintenance of the status quo, noting its recent uses in the a conservative revival of gendered domesticities. Drawing on the work of Janis Jefferies, Claire Pajaczkowska and Rozsika Parker among others, I propose that feminist textiles have become at once a powerful metaphor and a physical materialisation of the queer feminist aspiration to denaturalise gender.
From Stitching by Candlelight to Crafting Online: Textiles, self-representation and continuing histories of subversive stitches.
In her seminal 1984 text The Subversive Stitch Rozsika Parker famously chronicled the history of women’s needlework as a tool of subversive communication used to covertly challenge patriarchal domination. While these subversions in earlier histories of women’s needlework were created in private, domestic spaces, contemporary feminist textiles now utilises online space, the most public of platforms, to craft dialogue around a range of political issues. Combining what have traditionally been domestic activities with open, public platforms of discourse, contemporary feminist textiles can be seen as a continuation of the subversive practices of past generations of women who created transgressive, poignant communications in private. Contemporary subversive textiles are not simply a ‘revival’ of past traditions, but rather it can be understood as a continuation of a long thread in the history of women’s subversive stitching. This article positions current feminist textile practice as a new stitch in a continuing narrative of women’s crafty-work. Through an examination of contemporary textile artists, from the UK and Australia, the article explores how feminist textiles are used within online space to represent issues of diversity, body positivity and politics of difference. The article reflects upon textiles subversive past and the continuation of textile traditions within new modes of digital communication. The use of platforms such as Instagram, facebook and Twitter now enables feminist textile artists to disseminate the subversive message of textiles to a larger audience than ever before. The history of women’s domestic needlework is brought to life in present day forums of online space, thereby intersecting private and public, tradition and innovation, and critiques the continuing devaluation of ‘women’s work.’ While their foremothers stitched covertly by candlelight, these crafty feminists pay homage to the past by positioning the stitch as a voice of self-representation in the most visible of public platforms. Through online space the subversive voices of the past are kept alive in the crafty-work of contemporary feminist textiles.
Nasty Women: Feminist Textiles and Excess
Dr Julia Skelly
Feminist artists and scholars have long known that white women and women of colour who are perceived as transgressing socio-spatial boundaries and norms have been labeled as ‘excessive,’ ‘grotesque,’ ‘monstrous’, and ‘nasty.’ In The Female Grotesque: Risk, Excess and Modernity (1994), Mary Russo observes that “the grotesque…is only recognizable in relation to a norm and that exceeding the norm involves serious risk” (10). Feminist artists employing textiles are deliberately engaging with a traditionally denigrated medium, and many of these artists are using textiles to represent ostensibly ‘excessive’ women. To name only two examples, Israel-born artist Orly Cogan portrays young white women consuming cupcakes and cocaine, while Brooklyn-based artist Erin M. Riley weaves tapestries depicting drug paraphernalia and her tattooed body. Textiles, which have often been associated with the decorative, the superficial, and the excessive, are, as Rozsika Parker, among others, has taught us, powerful, symbolically-loaded materials that befit radical, feminist art production. Rather than reading these works as simple celebrations of ‘excessive’ women, ‘Nasty Women’ will engage with the risks that these artists are taking with their chosen materials and subject matter.
Lubaina Himid: artist, activist, collaborator
Dr Christine Checinska
Artist Lubaina Himid (born 1954 in Zanzibar, Tanzania) works in painting, installation and printmaking. A pioneer of the 1980s Black Arts Movement in Britain, her work is politically charged, tackling questions of race, gender and class. Invisible cultural histories, forgotten diasporic and/or female voices and reclaiming identities are ever-present themes in her practice, as is the representation of cloth.
In this conversation Himid talks about cloth whilst reflecting on the women that shaped her early years, the under-represented women artists that inspired exhibitions such as Five Black Women (Africa Centre, 1983) and her current show Invisible Strategies (Modern Art Oxford, 2017).
Labor, Class and the Politics of Cloth
In 1968 the sewing machinists at the Ford factory in Dagenham went on strike after their jobs were graded to be less skilled than their male counterparts, resulting in 15% less pay for the same work. The strike, lasting three weeks, brought the Ford factory to a standstill and heavily influenced the 1975 passing of the Equal Pay Act 19701. These women were not contesting textiles as an expressive medium or appropriating cloth for a feminist message, this was a reclamation of their marginalised position resulting in a radical, practical act which brought about real political change. Yet the history of feminist politics and textiles has said little of the relationship to cloth when married to an industrial model.
Drawing from a rich history of English socially working class women’s relationship to textiles and political action, this paper will reposition working class women within the history of feminism and textiles, while establishing a different relationship to textiles from an English socially working class position that is no less urgent in understand textiles as a medium. Determining a history of political action from the above case of the women’s Ford factory strike of 1968, the paper will move to a comparative analyse between the exhibition’s Womanhouse (California, USA, 1972) and A Womans Place (London, UK, 1974), the latter inspired by the former, to question the different use of textiles and feminist discourse between the two exhibitions.
Disabled women artists are using textiles to challenge, subvert and inform. Their work brings together issues relating to feminism and disability. This was evident in two recent disability arts exhibitions in Leeds, Shoddy and The Reality of Small Differences.
A focus on the work of disabled women artists in those exhibitions reveals themes common in feminist art practice: personal and family histories, narratives of the body, women’s lives, resisting institutional power, fighting inequality.
Textile art and craft has long been part of the background of disabled women’s history, from the workhouse through to the day centre. Textiles are now proving to be expressive media for disabled women artists to challenge assumptions.
Militant Cloth, Feminist Futures
This article considers how my multi-media art practice engages with questions of social support, queer community, and domesticity, situating it in relation to contemporary queer critique and histories of feminist and queer aesthetic production. In particular, I explore craft practice as a shadow category within contemporary art and suggest that fibers and materials processes can be utilized towards the creation and imagination of militant queer feminist futures.