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Handkerchief with names embroidered

Suffragettes and the craft of protest: talk and embroidery workshop

Written by Centre for Fashion Curation
Published date 05 March 2020

    To coincide with this year’s UAL Research Season, where all six UAL colleges hosted events on the theme of social justice and the arts, CfFC presented a workshop and talk on the life and work of the Suffragettes. Drawing upon the exhibition, Motive/Motif: artists commemorate the Suffragettes, curated by Alison Moloney and Charlotte Hodes, this lunchtime event encouraged those attending to learn an embroidery skill or work on their existing handmade objects.

    Handkerchief embroidered with different names

    A handkerchief embroidered in 1912 by Suffragettes who were imprisoned at HMP Holloway was the starting point for the exhibition and subsequent workshop. Most of the women who embroidered their signatures on the handkerchief participated in demonstrations in March 1912 organised by the Women’s Social & Political Union. They were denied the status of political prisoners and many were force-fed. Embroidery, often associated with the containment of women, enabled women to find artistic and even radical expression and acted as a unifier of women from different class and cultural backgrounds. Twenty renowned and emerging artists – including Rachel Whiteread, Sarah Lucas and Molly Goddard - each created an image which was embroidered onto a handkerchief, to mark the passing of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, which gave women the vote.

    Textiles technician and lecturer, Harriett Brown, translated the artists’ drawings into embroidery, either by using machine-stitch or handsewn techniques. For the workshop, Harriett demonstrated the running stitch, a basic, and foundation stitch in hand-sewing and embroidery, which participants applied to embroider their initials, or for the more accomplished, their signatures onto a handkerchief.

    Whilst the participants embroidered, Senior Research Fellow, Archives, Susanna Cordner, delved into the history of women’s stitch and protest, presenting the stories and messages hidden within the women’s samplers. Alison Moloney then presented the images and histories of the Suffragettes who had embroidered their signatures onto the handkerchief, and revealed their contribution and sacrifices for the movement.

    The workshop ended with a talk by Harriett Brown, who spoke of working with the artists to interpret their drawings, and who has subsequently brought together the participants individual signatures and one handkerchief in keeping with and in solidarity with the Suffragettes.

    One workshop participant, Michelle Philgence commented:

    What an amazing way to spend a lunchbreak! I had not embroidered for over 30 years and really enjoyed reconnecting with the subject. The combination of sewing and learning is an excellent idea and has genuinely inspired me to do more. Thank you for the opportunity!

    Motive/Motif: artists commemorate the Suffragettes continues to tour and is at the Appleby Gallery, at the Frances Bardsley Academy for Girls in Romford, Essex.

    2 - 27 March 2020

    Admission by appointment only between 9am -3pm. Tel: 01708 447368 ext 238