Threads Through Time Introduction

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Fibers are part of our daily life. They clothe us, keep us warm, add beauty to our homes, and comfort us. They are familiar to us in ways that painting, graphic design and other art mediums are not; so much so that we often do not take the time to appreciate the beauty in them. Until more recent history, the home was the domain of the woman, and as such, her creative space. While it was not unheard of for a woman to become a professional artist, it was the rare exception. Most women flexed their creativity with the “home arts”. Instead of canvas or stone, women used clothing, rugs, quilts, tablecloths and samplers as a means of expressing themselves and exploring their creativity. Perhaps because of their familiarity and homemade nature, these works are often overlooked as works of art-they are taken for granted. These threads connect generations of women. Quilts and tablecloths are lovingly handed down through the years, from mother to daughter, usually with an anecdote about the creator. Techniques are taught to the next generation, so that they may create their own heirlooms. These threads also bring women together in the making of them. Women bonded over quilting bees; grandmothers bonded with their granddaughters during sewing lessons.

But women also used these home arts to speak out and help out.  The Drunkard’s Path is a quilting pattern used to promote prohibition. During World War I, women across the country knitted socks and other items for soldiers fighting in Europe. Quilts were made for fundraisers to help out their communities. Churches and clergy were adorned with items made by female parishoners. Perhaps the most effective way women used fibers was with their clothing, and none more famous than the white suffragette dress and sash. A simple white dress wrapped with a sash of purple, white and gold created a stunning symbol of a movement, one still recognized and honored today.

Women artists still hold to these traditions while making contemporary work. They are taking something comforting and familiar, and using it as a vehicle to speak truth and raise awareness. Pinky Bass uses traditional embroidery techniques, Patricia A. Montgomery is a quilter, and Louise Halsey weaves.  Some contemporary women are changing the rules. Rena Detrixhe and Delita Martin are challenging the definition of fibers by merging a traditional format with an unfamiliar material. Rachel Trusty and Jessie Hemmons  are using these skills to create powerful messages for current events such as LGBTQ+ awareness and the #MeToo Movement.  These provocative works are connected to the historical though. They stand on traditions while reaching ahead. The suffragette sewing her sash is connected to the #MeToo protester knitting a pussy hat. Fibers are the roots of women’s artistic genealogy, they are a legacy and a voice of generations of women during a time when they were not allowed to speak, and today, when they can speak volumes.


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