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).


While on a hunger strike within the walls of Halloway Prison in 1912, a woman recorded her experience in an embroidered handkerchief. Her deliberate stitching presents us with an intimate artifact that embodies an individual experience and a pivotal collective moment in Western women's history. The textile engages us with her act of resistance in a struggle for a political voice for herself and womankind. This singular textile communicates a powerful sense of self and, with its provocative content, a prescient anticipation of a future audience. Through personal examination of a number of suffrage textiles housed in the Museum of London and an analysis of new historical viewpoints, this study promotes the efficacy of textiles as historical sources. Using an interdisciplinary approach, the construct of voice in textiles is used to challenge 'received' history that has marginalized some experience. Textiles imbued with women's negotiation of historical circumstance during the suffrage movement can be viewed now, on its centenary, as a response to converging social, economic and political factors. The Halloway embroideries juxtapose the 'delicate' domestic skill of embroidery with the grim reality of oppressive prison sentences. Embedded within the textiles of the embroiderers, once dismissed as irrational bourgeois women, was a new political force. Cognizant of the power of symbolism, women employed their amateur craft skills crossing class boundaries to enact resistance and propel enfranchisement onto the public stage. It is timely to examine these acts of commemoration and performance, infused with agency, identity and desire for social change, through the language of textiles.