When I started to learn basketry, my oldest friend took great glee in sending me an article on Freud in which he expounded that ‘women have made few contributions to the discoveries and inventions in the history of civilization’ grudgingly allowing that perhaps we may have devised plaiting and weaving but that was only out of shame (you know who you are MK).
Before the industrial revolution, all wool, thread, and cloth were made by hand and it took a great deal of skill and time to gather fibres from plants or animals to make anything useful let alone beautiful. The finest cloth was used to display wealth and status; hung on walls and adorning royalty with myths abounding such as the tales of Athena, Arachne or the Golden Fleece. Spinners and weavers were lauded and acclaimed for their skills and economic contribution by the granting of a charter and the creation of the Weavers’ Guild in the twelfth century.
Along comes the spinning jenny and suddenly, textiles could be produced quickly and cheaply; so sewing, weaving, embroidery and quilting became crafts associated with domesticity and were mainly allocated to women. What was regarded as a high art form practiced by both men and women since ancient times was demoted to a “feminine craft” that was at best a characteristic of an attractive and thrifty wife. Now it’s sunk even further with clothing and bedding seen as cheap throwaway items with some eleven million items ending up in landfill each week.
Fortunately for me we live in more enlightened times, with knitting making a comeback and the art world starting to showcase a wide range of textile and fibre art. It’s not just for grandmas anymore.