A short book review...

The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine by Rozsika Parker

4 (out of 5) stars for the sheer amount of research; unfortunately the images are not very good quality and are black and white. The book really should be titled something like, The Subservient Stitch: the Link Between Embroidery and Women in the U.K. Since the Middle Ages. But obviously that's too long and not catchy or intriguing enough.

It was a fascinating analysis of the changing motifs in embroidery and the role needlework played in reflecting, reinforcing, and serving the shifting ideologies of femininity and sex roles in Britain. Sometimes her analysis seemed oversimplified or conjectured; and the chapters were a bit meandering at times, with misleading chapter titles. For example, one chapter is called 'Femininity as Feeling', but it only had one paragraph related to that idea, while the uniting theme of the chapter was actually the 19th century. All the chapters are basically organized by century and delve into each period's changes in embroidery motifs and shifting societal norms. I noticed a problem with that running throughout the book - she notes it herself at one point:

As ever with embroidery it is important to establish how far the choice of subject matter was determined by the general social, political, and artistic developments of the time and how far women's specific experience and the history of embroidery dictated the needlewomen's choice.

In other words, you can try to analyze this history through a feminist lens, but developments in say, religious ideas (like Protestantism) affected shifts in needlework imagery as much as the fluctuations in ideas about femininity. It's an interrelated, complex puzzle.