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).


For hundreds of years, sails provided the means for trade between distant places, for exploration and territorial expansion. They facilitated fierce competition between countries, rivalry that still exists in international sailing races. Sails signified the ship's origins, sometimes the crew's religion and culture. As working textiles, they were not always decorated, but the ones that were carried symbols and meaning beyond the purpose of the voyage itself. Sails have featured different textiles, from hemp in medieval Europe to the translucent mylar of today's racing yachts. They have their own aesthetic and practical presence, and can signify both extreme wealth and a dogged, even desperate self-reliance. They have been likened to wings and their worn panels used to swaddle dead sailors as their bodies were consigned to the waves. My current body of work "Sail" included learning how to make a simple set of sails (mainsail and jib) and to devise a system to display them in a gallery. I have embroidered them with double-sided embroidery that references pilot charts, tide charts, cloud formations and the relentless patching necessary on the long voyages of sailing ships. My intent is to examine ideas about the communal and individual knowledge in the maritime community, and by extension, in other peoples who are closely tied to the environment. As oil becomes a source of global warming, dire pollution and political instability, sails might be reconsidered as a means of propulsion and a statement of change.