E-REA (Dec 2018)

“[T]hat pincushion made of crimson satin:” Embroidery, Discourse and Memory in Victorian Literature and Culture


Journal volume & issue
Vol. 16


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This article explores the significance of mid-Victorian domestic embroidery, relying on resources from literature, essays, women’s magazines, paintings, and embroidered objects. Victorian embroidery can be difficult to understand for modern viewers. Although it was viewed as an ancient and prestigious craft, its practitioners were happy to rely on speedy execution, easy shortcuts, mass-produced materials and widely-circulated patterns.A reflection on time seems to transpire through these text-iles. The practice of embroidery staged a tension between historicity and modernity, allowing middle-class women to engage in modern modes of production while imagining themselves as aristocratic ladies of the past. Moreover, by circumventing the dominant print culture, it provided women with an alternative locus for expression with which to “write” their own narratives. In this sense, embroidered artefacts are discursive tools in their own right, providing material memories of women’s history. Finally, because they are intimately linked to the bodies and psyches of the women making them, these objects act as souvenirs, as receptacles for memories, providing, in Susan Stewart’s words, “a narrative of interiority and authenticity.”