Stitches in Medieval Time
“They must be careful, diligent and wise,
In Needleworkes that beare away the Prise.”
— William Barley, 1596
“She (Mary, late Countess of Pembroke) wrought so well
in Needleworke that she nor yet her Worke shall ere forgotten be.”
— John Taylor, 1630
Women artists in the middle ages worked with
the needle and created other artworks,
but often remained obscure. According to this article
“Women Artists in the Middle Ages”, by Stephanie Smith
there were some odd things resulting in the “almost” disappearance
of various types of women’s works.
It can reasonably be assumed that most women, from a young age,
would be expected to gather certain skills in order to
become viable contenders on the social marriage market.
Even in more recent Regency
times, young women had to learn piano, to sing, to create needlework,
to sketch and mind her manners to become an eligible bride.
Perhaps this social trending accounts for the relative obscurity of
women’s arts, as it appears a gathering of creative strings
to their bows was mandatory, and was not considered particularly special.
However, this does not seem to affect noble women, whose names often
endured past their own lifetimes, some of which continue to be well
known today. Perhaps it was not possible to enjoy fame
if the purse or position was not high enough in medieval times?
Certainly the patroness of the City of Ladies, Christine de Pizan,
has endured to be closely studied in modern times,
and other luminaries like Hildegard of Bingen, refuse to disappear
into obscurity. Perhaps a middle class woman’s stitching was
not considered remarkable enough to be lauded
beyond her time, but here are some nice examples of
medieval styles and samples of embroidery from the
Victoria and Albert Museum in London, courtesy of the
comprehensive “Medieval and Renaissance Embroidery” web site,
well worth exploring in fine detail, through the various links.
However mandatory it was for a woman to stitch, it seems a
shame to categorize this skill to the realms of the mundane. Imagine
a gallery showing the works of Christine de Pizan, which her mother
urged her to make, albeit mostly in vain, or a decorative collar work
by a traditional housewife of her times? Social purse or position did
not dictate innate talent, and genetics could grant the humblest woman a skill
with the needle, which would be a blessing to her, and those around her.
Some further reading and historic trending follows, in the rich resources of
daily lives, which is worth the consideration of valuable women’s work.
(copyright Imogen Crest 2008.)
(Above quotes courtesy of Whiteworks online.)