Writing Our Stories with Hooks and Needles

This project marries the traditional forms of humanities scholarship—the conference presentation and the solo-authored article—with the collaborative methodologies of the digital humanities—a public, open-source database—to analyze textile production as a platform for women’s voices.[1] The work is both interdisciplinary and comparative—textiles in the database range in date from the ancient world to the modern and include both fictional textiles presented in literature and actual textiles described in the historical record or extant in archives and museums. All too often scholars of literature and history have paid little attention to these textiles, treating them as interludes between more critical moments of advancing plot or dismissing them as the product of women’s domestic work. Careful analysis of these textiles, however, yields insight into their role as venue for female speech.

Even as more women are joining the ranks of the professoriat, the widespread fiction that women in the premodern world were powerless chattel persists. This mistaken impression is formed by representations of the past in contemporary American popular culture (e.g. the damsel in distress, the downtrodden Cinderella), and it is confirmed by the dearth of female authors included in anthologies of pre-modern world literature and by our, scholars’, struggle to present the nuances of a different system of power relationships in the limited time our students spend with us. In order to see the power that women in earlier societies had, we have to set aside the expectations formed by our own experiences of twenty-first century power dynamics and attend to the unfamiliar dynamics of power present in the texts and artifacts under examination.

My refereed book chapter, “The Findern Codex and In the Middle: Understanding ME Vernacular Manuscripts through the Lens of Social Media in the Twenty-First Century,” uses the modern model of social media production to understand the community of largely female readers and scribes that shaped a multi-text codex in fifteenth-century England. In March of 2018, I presented another portion of this project, “Writing Our Stories with Hooks and Needles: Literary Women’s Voices in Textiles,” which juxtaposes Brynhild of the Old Norse Völsunga Saga and Tita of Laura Esquivel’s Como Agua para Chocolate, at Creative Bodies, Creative Minds, an interdisciplinary conference hosted by the University of Graz.

The data collected for this project, though still in its early stages, is currently featured in this timeline, and the next stage includes the creation of a public, open-source database, likely based on the OMEKA-S software, with a submission form for users to contribute suggested material. Future work on this project includes the inclusion of Early American embroidered samplers and abolitionist quilts in the database and an article examining seventeenth-century samplers with particular attention to women who stretched the norms of this medium in planning and executing their designs.

[1]Women is broadly defined as any persons who have a female gender identity. All women are women.

Research and Teaching Portfolio of Kate Christine Moore Koppy