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The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine
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The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine

4.13  ·  Rating details ·  300 ratings  ·  31 reviews
In this fascinating study, Rozsika Parker traces a hidden history--the shifting notions of femininity and female social roles--by unraveling the history of embroidery from medieval times until today.
Paperback, 320 pages
Published September 13th 1989 by Routledge (first published January 1st 1984)
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Average rating 4.13  · 
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 ·  300 ratings  ·  31 reviews

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Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: feminist embroidery nerds,
Shelves: 2017
4 stars for the sheer amount of research; unfortunately the images are not very good quality and are black and white. The book really should be titled something like, The Subservient Stitch: the Link Between Embroidery and Women in the U.K. Since the Middle Ages. But obviously that's too long and not catchy or intriguing enough.

This book is a fascinating look at the changing motifs in embroidery and the role needlework played in reflecting, reinforcing, and serving the shifting ideologies of fe
Feb 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
I can't remember how I came across this book, but I couldn't resist putting it on the list for our feminist book club, and was very happy when it got voted in for discussion. When I started reading it, I got a little apprehensive, since it seemed extremely academic and rather niche, and I was worried that the group (and I) wouldn't enjoy it.

I needn't have worried. It is academic and does seem niche - especially the chapter on how the Victorians reinterpreted for their own ends the relationship o
Aug 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
Rambles a bit but this is an interesting (if currently dated) look at Embroidery and how in many ways it has come to define a certain level of femininity. How it went from being a career to being an acceptable way for women to pass their time and how it has been diminished by both men and women.

I know from personal experience how little people appreciate handcrafts and how if I quote a fair price for embroidery work that people are surprised. This is an interesting look at how embroidery became
Feb 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: story, setting
I had read this many years ago, but had decided it would be timely to reread this since I have been reading books like Craftivism, Bibliocraft, Strange material and the Bayeaux Tapestry. This one really did come first, and those other titles follow very worthily. It is a bit dated, but still a very strong book to read, and much of the anger over historical depictions is still very valid. It is still necessary reading (well, at least very strongly suggested reading) after reading some of the titl ...more
[3.8 might be a more accurate rating for me - but I went ahead and rounded up.]

Rozsika Parker's exploration of the history of embroidery (primarily within the scope of Britain) and its relationship to femininity drew my attention because I've taken up embroidery entirely on my own in the past few years. A lot of the appeal for me was the historical connection, so of course I looked around for books on the history of the art. Add in a discussion of gender and society and I'm sold.

Parker's book or
Ania Gaska
Oct 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art-books
I was fist pumping while reading this book, and ranting to all of my friends and coworkers.
Octavia Cade
Dec 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history, feminism, art
This was really interesting! It makes me want to get back into embroidery, not that I was ever very good at it in the first place but still. Embroidery, and I suppose textile art in general, has a history of being seen as "lesser" in comparison to the male-dominated fine arts such as painting or sculpture, but this wasn't always the case. The slow transition of embroidery from a fine art to a craft, from something both genders practiced to something relegated to the feminine, is a story of sad d ...more
Mar 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
A scholarly social history of embroidery and feminism? Yes, please. I gleaned a lot of insight into the evolution of northern-European traditon embroidery and how it became entwined and inseparable from femininity, from the medieval ages to nearly the present day. Although it was written in 1984, my edition of The Subversive Stitch includes a new introduction written in 2010, attempting to bring the subject matter more up-to-date. But really, it's not that dated anyway. Parker's last page, comme ...more
Oct 17, 2007 rated it really liked it
I started reading this work on a research trip, and then the library recalled it, so I need to get it back. This work discusses the use of embroidery by women as a mode of expression and in some cases rebellion. I have to say that one of the most striking things I have read in it so far - and I am not too far into it - is a section on a woman who was suspicious of her daughter's needlework. She doesn't like that during all other tasks her daughter hums and sings, but during embroidery, she is si ...more
Sep 26, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really, really enjoyed this look at embroidery and the making of the feminine throughout (mostly English) history. I give it 4 stars only because it would have really been improved by colour photos at a higher resolution...but this re-issue is very fine otherwise.

So many ideas to follow up on from this read; Parker did mention some newer textile artists in her new introduction, and I'd love to read about the path of embroidery past the late 70s where this book stops.

I found this inspirational
Feb 05, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Insanely interesting and the last chapter was very exciting to read.
Margaret Pride
Jan 27, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very interesting. Minus one star because I was disappointed in the quality of the illustrations in the edition I have. I would have liked to see color and more detail on many of the pieces shown.
Sep 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book gives an historical perspective on the way embroidery changed from being a profitable business for women to a method of oppressing and exploiting women and their emotions. Only in the final two chapters do we begin to hear about how women have reclaimed embroidery to use it in subversive ways, such as the use of embroidery by suffragettes in their banners, and by more recent feminist artists.

As well as providing an interesting and well-researched history of embroidery, this book made
Jun 25, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I'm pretty disappointed in this book after it was hyped to me as a wonderful history of women "taking back" the feminine arts - it's not that.

It's a VERY white history of English stitchwork by merchant class and royal women and men, with far too much emphasis on the church and religious imagery. Barely any discussion of the actual work of embroidery, materials used, or anything "subversive" until the chapters set mostly in the 1970s. The "updated" forward mentions a few newer artists, but doesn'
Facundo Matiaude
Aug 20, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: ensayos
Since I am new in the world of embroidery, I was eager to read such an interesting looking work as this and I must say I was not disappointed.

Even though sometimes it was hard to link the theme of the chapter to its slightly rambling content, it didn't matter much since the orderly reading of this book gives you a timeline of the social, cultural and economical implications of embroidery from the medieval era to the twentieth century. As I advanced though it, I realized how prominent are the tie
Samantha Blasbalg
Mar 15, 2021 rated it really liked it
Really enjoyed this book. It was a much slower read because fitting in reading an actual book is much harder for me these days than kindle or audiobook, but this book literally doesn't exist digitally. Knocked off a star because some parts are a little repetitive and as other reviewers noted, a lot of the pictures are sadly very hard to make out. But what a cool book this is. I kept finding myself wishing I could highlight things because this book is filled with gems. Truly the best part about i ...more
Clark Taynton
Jun 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book traces the use of embroidery, especially by Victorian England, to define and enforce barriers on femininity and the effects this has had both on embroidery and women.

Very thorough in its treatment of the topic and completely grounded in its use of direct evidence. It is not a light read and does make use of psychoanalysis, but is well worth the effort to decipher it.
Mary Mosley
Oct 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really loved this book and learned a lot. It seems certain classes of women embroidered everything that didn't move during certain periods of history. But it's about a lot more than embroidery. It covers the expectations of what women should be from the Middle Ages to the present. We haven't come a long way. ...more
Feb 22, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history, art
Fascinating history of embroidery. I give it 4 stars because there were a few points where Parker reached conclusions that didn't necessarily follow from the information she gave us, but it's a generally good history that has a lot of information I didn't know before. ...more
Jessica Harby
Nov 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
The lack of quality and colour in the reproductions is an insult to the author's research and writing, as well as to the textile work that this book is elevating. ...more
Nov 09, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2018
Fascinating read exploring the relationship between embroidery and the construction/maintenance of femininity, including the opportunities afforded by the Gothic revival for women's art. ...more
Renee Z
Apr 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This book was fantastic. I learned so much! The last chapter could have been longer since I thought that was super interesting, but overall worth a read!
Lynne - The Book Squirrel
Interesting read, the Victorians have got a lot to answer to!
Ew Lake
Nov 23, 2020 rated it it was ok
What an odd choice to select this academic, British-centric title for the DAI's premiere book club read. Too much like a dissertation - long in the tooth- an article could have sufficed. ...more
Mar 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book has opened my eyes to so much possibility within my art practice. The role link between feminity and embroidery is an important one for all women to understand not just active embroiders. Im so excited about other reads suggested from this book. I will return to this book at various points within my career as I will gain more and more out of it!
Claire Cullingworth
Dec 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Such an interesting book on how sewing has been seen as "Women's Work", and how women have been confined by that, and yet have also subverted it in different ways. Full of fascinating historical detail ...more
Sep 21, 2008 rated it really liked it
A bit dry, but still fascinating. A throw-back to my days as a Fiber major.
Part art history part feminist history, but all embroidery. There were definitely some interesting bits in the book, but a pretty heavy read all around.
Jul 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
An interesting read on the history of embroidery and women and how attitudes towards it have changed over the centuries.
May 21, 2019 is currently reading it
I was so excited to see that the Dior window in Auckland this week says The Subversive Stitch. Checking out their website I could see that they had indeed referenced this important work in their A/W collection. I first read this book not long after it was published. I'm happy to see it's still in print and a copy is on order at my local independent bookstore (sure, I could buy it cheaper online but as of writing, Amazon doesn't have yet a lovely high street shop in my city full of inspirational ...more
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