Women’s Library

August 25, 2011 § 1 Comment

In order to further develop and refine the rationale behind my work I visited the Women’s Library to complete some research. I was particularly excited to have access to the 50’s and 60’s issues of Women’s Own and The Woman magazine.

Women's Own 1954


All the information available to me was rather overwhelming – I had to keep asking myself the question ‘what is important to my work?’ and ‘why’? I aimed to refine my artist statement after the visit in order to create a clear concept.

Sure enough the magazines included a huge range of ‘do it yourself’ and instructional knitting, crochet and embroidery. I thought that the language used to describe these pieces was particularly interesting. Some quotes taken from the 1956 additions:

“Wonderful 8 page pull out booklet – gay colourful summer knitting”

“Daisy gay tea cloth to embroider for the garden”

“A lacy gay blouse – charming to wear with your gay summer skirts”

There’s something so intrinsically feminine about these words. It reminded me of an introduction I had read in one of the tatting magazines I have. “After the the first world war all things Victoiran, good, bad or indifferent were lumped together and classified as ‘stuffy’. As a result many fine needlework was forgotten, until a few years ago women began to rediscover what might be called the more feminine handicrafts.”  I feel there is a hesitant sense here around the work ‘feminine handicrafts’ – “what might be called”. I enjoy that uncomfortable tension – like it’s a dirty word.

Other concepts that came out of my visit include:

  • The emergence of domestic textile machines (textile technology) appearing for the mass market

“Gone are the days of laborious hand knitting” Women’s Own, 1956 August 30th

This created a clear discrepency in the magazines of the adverts and content – whereby they included articles on how to complete your lovely summer knitting juxtaposted with adverts telling you knitting is a laborious task.

  • Sewing as identity – both positive and negative aspects
“Home sewing was linked to several discourses including feminine thrift, creativity and attractiveness” Mclean, M (1940) I dearly loved that machine
In Shirley by Charlotte Bronte the character Rose York complains that a life devoted to domestic tasks waste of women’s talents and a living death as ‘monotomy and death to be almost the same’.
  • Motivations
Aesthetics and creativity were important motivations however economics was the primary reason women sewed at home. (Conkleyn, N. (1961), Home sewing, amount and kinds of sewing done and reasons given for sewing by group of homemakers, Ohio State University). How creative is following instructions? In essence every women making the same outcome?
  • Shifts in reasons for sewing
poor economics – sewing as useful
Changing role of women – sewing as relaxation/ creative outlet
As a result of my research I have become particularly interested in the change that machines brought to the production of hand crafted textiles. My latest drawing is using bi-products of industrial knitting machines and drawing hand knitting instructional diagrammes over the top of these.

knitting stitches



§ One Response to Women’s Library

  • UlrikeH says:

    Dear Sally
    I don’t know if you are going to see this but I would really like to get in touch with you. I am currently compiling the programme for the Embroiderers’ Guild in Oxford for 2016 and would love you to give a talk about your work and research. It looks intriguing!
    Best wishes

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