Historically, sewing has been linked to the mental and physical imprisonment of women, until recently, when it has been reclaimed by women as a weapon of resistance to the constraints of femininity, as well as a way to communicate their political/personal agendas. Women were able to find genuine social pleasure while gathering together to sew, knit, embroider, quilt, crochet and mend as they were also able to bond with each other during this time together. It has proved a source of pleasure and power for women while also being a constant reminder of their past powerlessness. Sewing’s intimate association with women’s lives and the domestic tradition created strong communities around needlework and supplied women with support and outlet for expression. However it is this very association between women and craft and femininity that has recently pushed many artists concerned with the status of women towards this relationship.It is this history and the manner in which sewing signifies both self containment and submission that is key to understanding women’s relation to this art form as well as the act of reclaiming it.
I found that as a medium the quilt has the ability to invoke the very deep history of the entrapment and empowerment of women. Beginning in the 17th century in the Americas through the centuries, quilts have been used as a way to capture the maker’s own narrative as they are creating the quilt while also interweaving the historical narrative of women’s relationship to this specific craft. Initially considered to be strictly an American female art form, quilt making has proven to hold a multiplicity of meaning. Existing as an item of memorial or historical document, quilts serve a broad purpose. Even within the realm of utilitarian objects these items become a document of our experiences.
For my thesis project I endeavoured to explore this extremely fraught relationship between women, craft and traditional gender roles through the process of quilt making. The quilt itself is made up partly of eight screen printed illustrations each focusing on the intense relationship and hardships of women, traditional means of femininity, and forced domesticity. I created these illustrations through the use of collage; by using imagery that evokes traditional ideals of femininity juxtaposed with feelings of anger and frustration, I am able to show emotions and experiences that are usually hidden or subverted.