Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Published in Textiles and Politics: Textile Society of America 13th Biennial Symposium Proceedings, Washington, DC, September 18- September 22, 2012.


Copyright 2012 by the author(s).


Over many thousands of years there have been political, social meanings woven into the very fabric of cloth. Fabric is politically and semiotically charged even before it has any further imagery added to it. With the production of cheaper cotton and mass printing techniques in the eighteenth century the handkerchief, kerchief or bandana become the perfect vehicle for political messages, signifying complicity or resistance to political ideologies. I will trace the rise of the use of propaganda handkerchiefs from political protest such as Berthold's Political Handkerchief, which was a British working class newspaper that was printed onto cotton in 1831 to avoid a tax on paper, to American examples, which exist from the early 19th century. I will be examining examples of handkerchiefs which are expressions of nationalistic ideologies, such as commemorative handkerchiefs from the Boer and First World Wars, these reinforced the propaganda messages of the ruling classes, messages of duty, aimed at both soldiers (men) and women. I will be looking at World War 2 Jacqmar scarves, assessing both agitation and integration propaganda within these contexts; following through to the use of handkerchiefs in American Political campaigns. Using the work of the Structuralists - Barthes, Baudrillard, LÈvi- Strauss as well as Gramsci and Marx, I will examining the historical relationship between cloth, propaganda and semiotics, and using these to explore the notions of the handkerchief as a complex form of political communication; to look at these ideas not as mutually inclusive or exclusive but to explore their shades of complexity.