The feminization of needlework under patriarchal systems of power and oppression has reinforced both long-standing feminine stereotypes and temporal sociocultural ideals. As a tool of patriarchal oppression, needlework has been used to confine women to the domestic sphere by teaching them to stay in the home, be quiet, and follow a pattern; as an educational instrument, needlework reinforced standards of women’s behavior, aptitudes, and conduct. However, women for centuries have silently resisted and subverted these expectations and ideals through the very same means. Women have utilized needlework during times of crisis and collective trauma for centuries as both practicality and means of expression. Starting in the second-wave feminist movement, female artists fought for the recognition of needlework as high art, a category which the craft was explicitly excluded from since 1768 by The Royal Academy in the UK.
From altered Sampler verses of Early Modernity to the present-day Pandemic Embroidery Project, crisis and confinement has resulted in the employment of textile craft to disseminate information, protest, collectivize, aid society, and record history internationally. Especially amidst times of social disruption and emergency, the importance of and reliance upon women’s domestic labors is heightened. By taking a historical approach to analyze the ways in which women have employed needlework during times of social crisis internationally, we can understand the durable, practical, and precious media as a political device and high art.