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FOCUS: Precious Fragments by Karen Ruane of www.karenruane.blogspot.com


Karen Ruane of Contemporary Embroidery talks to UK Handmade about the changing role which embroidery and textile work has played and continues to play in the lives of women around the world.


Perceived as ‘women’s work’,


embroidery has, in part, been seen historically as the pastime of middle class women, a contribution to the creation of comfort and stability. However, the ability to embroider was, for some, an essential tool of survival; poverty requiring the life of cloth to be extended, to be used and re used.


“Every civilisation has the tradition of squirreling away precious fragments until they are needed to construct a whole” (Constantine & Reuter. Whole Cloth 1997)


Perhaps the most prolific demonstration of this is seen with quilting. Patches from discarded clothing and old ‘Sunday best’ garments would be cut up and reconstructed into warm coverlets,


37 | ukhandmade | Autumn 2011


quilts and blankets. Despite the laborious process of creating these utility items, women saw this process as more than labour; rather it became the creation of a thing of beauty and symbolised a woman’s devotion to her home and family as described by Mildred Constantine and Laurel Reuter in 1997, “A woman made utility quilts as fast as she could so her family wouldn’t freeze and she made them as beautiful as she could so her heart wouldn’t break’”.


For some, needlework was essentially a vehicle used to provide the basic needs of survival rather than a leisurely pastime. In contrast to the elaborate and decorative samplers produced by the wealthy middle classes, patching, piecing and darning became the impoverished mothers’ embroidered garden.


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