Lucy Lethbridge

Stitches in Time

Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle

By

Sceptre 306pp £20 order from our bookshop

Clare Hunter tops and tails her book about the long history of textile work, of stitching, embroidering and quilting, with a visit to the Bayeux Tapestry in Normandy and to The Dinner Party, Judy Chicago’s 1970s feminist installation in the Brooklyn Museum. Both works are very large – the Bayeux Tapestry an astonishing 230 feet long – but beyond that, and their incorporation of complex narrative embroidery, they stand at opposite ends of the needlework spectrum. One is a chronicle in just four colours of wool made by women and picturing men at war and peace; the other is a female artist’s celebration of history’s famous women. It is hard to imagine what the anonymous stitchers of the Bayeux Tapestry would have made of The Dinner Party’s vulva-shaped place settings. Perhaps, like me, they would have furrowed their brows at Hunter’s contention that Chicago’s fabric vaginas cross ‘an invisible threshold of gendered taste’. I like to think they would have had a good laugh: after all, the 11th-century tapestry (probably made by nuns) is not shy of genitalia – in fact, in the replica created by Victorian lady embroiderers, the many penises of the original were shrunk to comply with 19th-century standards of decency.

Sign Up to our newsletter

Receive free articles, highlights from the archive, news, details of prizes, and much more.

Follow Literary Review on Twitter

  • Last Tweets

    • The mystery of Jack the Ripper's identity has long been agonised over. But what do we know about his victims?… ,
    • A piece of Literary Review history from way back in 1983: John Haffenden talks to the great Iris Murdoch. ,
    • Britain’s only travelling lit fest, the Garden Museum Literary Festival is heading to Houghton Hall, Norfolk, for a… ,
    • 'The 19th-century German sage is not my idea of a pleasant travel companion' goes hiking with Friedr… ,
    • If you want ideas about what to read next, sign up to our free email newsletter, and get book reviews, archive mate… ,
    • 'The heroic male nude could not, I think, be used today to signify civic pride and glory', as Michelangelo’s 'David… ,
    • 'Munch’s later works show us a man liberated from the torments that gave rise to some of the best-known early works… ,