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Using contemporary embroidered artwork as a bellwether for changing social relationships, this paper will discuss how values regarding time, family and gender roles have evolved in the past couple of generations. Artists such as Orly Cogan, Louise Bourgeois, and Shanon Schollian embroider on vintage textiles to tell a new story about contemporary life. The past is invoked by the use of recycled household cloth, freshly stitched with a witty approach toward domestic imagery. This contrast between old and new textile layers signifies an elegiac distance from past ways of living and serves as a measure of how much society has changed in Western culture. It is significant that hand embroidery, once a past time to fill the leisured hours of housewives, has recently been revalued as a museum-worthy art medium in the work of Ghada Amer and others.
This research adapts Roszika Parker’s 1984 social analysis in The Subversive
Stitch to a new era of embroidery. Just as Miriam Schapiro and Judy Chicago used fiber arts to express the new social order that emerged as 1970s feminism, many contemporary artists in the last fifteen years have addressed the connection between textiles and a woman’s current place in society. However, these artists do not necessarily define themselves as feminists. Made with an ironic sensibility, these newly embroidered, recycled linens comment on the nearly lost art of hand sewing in a playful reclamation of “women’s work.”