Textile Society of America


Date of this Version



Gordon, Beverly. “Charmingly Quaint and Still Modern: The Paradox of Colonial Revival Needlework in America, 1875–1940.” Contact, Crossover, Continuity: Proceedings of the Fourth Biennial Symposium of the Textile Society of America, September 22–24, 1994 (Los Angeles, CA: Textile Society of America, Inc., 1995), pp. 241–251.


Copyright © 1994 Beverly Gordon


Despite the self-conscious modernism of the early 20th century, American needlework was filled with images of flower baskets, cozy cottages, spinning wheels, and women in hoopskirts. It was dominated by seemingly old-fashioned and "quaint" techniques, such as cross stitch, patchwork, crewel, and rug hooking. In an era with teeming cities, radio, and cars pouring off the assembly line, needlework came to stand for a romanticized, seemingly simpler and nobler American past. And in an era when women were winning the vote and re-entering the professional work force, needleworkers, in turn, became identified with the domestic homebody of the past. In reality, 20th century Colonial Revival needlework was fully a part of its own time, reflecting many of the developments seen in other forms of contemporary art and design. Techniques and imagery were stylized, streamlined, and abstracted, and patterns were transmitted through the mass media. Unlike actual colonial needlework, this was a populist, democratic form with national dimensions and a new class of professional, named designers. This paper looks at the theme of continuity and change in relation to a social movement or idea, examining how its attitudes and ideologies affected the development, appearance, and perception of needlework, and how textiles simultaneously reflected and helped shape the national cultural agenda.