Material & Emotional Values for Product Design

For the my next unit (Material and Emotional Values for Product Design) I have chosen to focus my research on the personal and historical connection we have to Products. I will begin my journey by focusing on Textile Design.

Personal Histories

Textiles design is a practice which is very important to me. This is not only an area I studied throughout my  academic career, but I was initially taught dressmaking and needlework skills by my Mother. In addition my paternal Grandmother was a Textiles teacher, my maternal Grandmother is an avid knitter and my Great Grandfather was a milliner.

Textile design has been an important part of my heritage, passed down through the generations. I have a degree in Textiles and Surface Design and a qualification in pattern cutting. Skills such as these are very important to me as sewing is not only one of my favourite pass times, but in learning these techniques it was also a way to bond with the female members of my family.

In addition I was born and raised in a Lancashire town and textiles is part of my local heritage. My home town is still surrounded by mills and remnants of the former cotton industry. To begin my research I have looked at some personal items which are important to me and my practice.

dscf0738My sewing machine, this was a gift from my parents on my 18th Birthday. I used it to complete work for my A-levels, Art Foundation, Degree and Pattern Cutting course. I still use it regularly when making my own clothes and soft furnishings. This is a completely invaluable piece of equipment to me.

DSCF0734.JPGThese sewing scissors were passed down to me from my Grandmother.  I use them every time I sew. The sewing process always begins with cutting out a pattern, they are one of the first things I use whenever I begin a new project.


A few years ago I attended a pattern cutting course with my Mother. This was a great way to spend time together and learn a skill. After acquiring our new skills, together we designed and made the dresses for my sisters wedding. Not only were these dresses a very personal wedding gift but they have added sentimental value as they were handmade by us.


This is my first every embroidery, I received this craft kit as a gift when I was around 7 and it took me a long time to complete. Despite the fact I don’t have it on display and there are many flaws with it Ihave never thrown it away. I have nostalgic feelings towards this piece as completing this task is a fond childhood memory. To throw it away now would make me feel like I didn’t value my own time and completing this piece was the first step on my textiles journey. Learning long stitch was the first time my Mother taught me a needlework technique.


My degree work is a collection of pieces I am really proud of. During this project my focus was on pattern and material, and I attempted to use traditional textile techniques in a contemporary way. The time and effort put into this project fill me with a sense of accomplishment as I challenged myself to push my knowledge and creative ability.

Finally there are a selection of handmade gifts I have made for friends an family. The macramé plant hanger was made for my sister and is a Modern revival on a 70s design. There are also a number of embroidered samplers with slogans or lyrics especially chosen for the recipient. These pieces were a labour of love and a lot of time and effort was put into them. My hope was to create a personalised gift which could be cherished.

Cultural Histories

Embroidery is one of man’s oldest skills and forms such as quilting (for warmth) and colour (for identification in medieval military encounters) were initially birthed out of necessity. Many historical pieces of needlework have a narrative and tell us a story of it’s time. Possibly the most famous piece is the the Bayeux Tapestry, a 70 meter long tapestry depicting the event of the Battle of Hastings.


In many cultures across the globe textiles has been traditionally passed down through generations of women. As a result, historically needlework has been discredited as an honoured art form and has been written of as “women’s work”. But it is an important part of many societies and an integral to many national or local stories.

“Fabric and handiworks played a significant role in women’s lives, and the skill would be taught not only by mothers but also in schools. Moreover, society in general placed great emphasis on embroidery as a social necessity; one of the signs of being a good women was being good at embroidery, either as a daughter, a mother, or a wife.” (O’Connor, 2010:894)

There are a number of embroidery techniques I was taught while at university which were once commonplace, but are rarely used today.


Englishwork: This is a technique worked with fine silk floss combined with metal elements, it was generally used in soft furnishings, popularised in the 16th Century. It would be used to depict scenes and stories. The type of work was taught young girls and was in large part dependent on her socioeconomic status.

Young women who would have to produce their own garments and household textiles, as well as make a living, learned plain and practical sewing techniques. Daughters of the gentry and nobility advanced to more elaborate decorative stitches, as part of their preparation for future roles as mistresses of large households.


Whitework: This was traditionally worked with white thread on white fabric and used for bridal and christening wear as a cheaper alternative to lace making. It originated in India and China and was popularised in the West in the Middle Ages and was used as decoration for table coverings and various church linens.


Drawnwork: Drawnwork is a way of creating stitches on fabric where the warp and/or weft threads have been pulled out to form the foundation of a pattern. This method uses counted stitches.


Mountmellick: This is an Irish technique of embroidery worked on firm cotton with matt threads of various thicknesses to produce a textured effect. It was developed around 1825 by Johanna Carter, who taught it to a group of about 15 women and girls. When the Irish Famine (1845-1849) hit the town of Mountmellick women were employed to stitch embroideries which were sold to raise money. Many of these items were sold from the port of Cobh, from where many people embarked on journeys to America.


Blackwork: This form of embroidery is usually associated with Tudor England. It originated in Spain, but it’s thought that Catherine of Aragon brought many blackwork garments with her from Spain popularising it. It is a counted thread embroidery, made up of repetitive geometric pattern.


Macrame: The modern art of decorating with knots, it is believed to have originated with 13th-century Arabian weavers. In the 1960s macramé became a popular craft and creative art technique in Europe and was used to create lampshades, plant hangers, bracelets and wall hangings. Many people now view this technique as ‘crafty’ and distasteful as it became a commonplace household craft.


Stumpwork: This is a style of embroidery where the stitched figures are raised from the surface of the work to form a 3D effect. Intricate design characteristics became popular in the 17th Century. Its growth in popularity can be attributed to embroidery pedlars who travelled the towns and countryside selling exotic embroidery kits containing silver and gold thread, fine cords silk-covered purls. Again like English work it was a popular technique used by the upper classes.

Unfortunately in the digital age where less people use embroidery as a pastime, many of these skills are being lost and perhaps not appreciated. It may be that they are seen as irrelevant in today’s society. Textiles based craft are also seem as a feminine and dometic hobby which serves no function as it’s purely decorative.

“Embroidery was supposed to signify femininity –docility, obedience, love of the home, and a life without work – it showed the embroider to be a deserving, worthy wife and mother. Thus the art played a crucial part in maintaining class position of the household, displaying the value of a man’s wife and the condition of his economic circumstance.” (Parker, 2012:11)


Not only is craft seen as a more feminine pastime, but it also a class issue. Embroidery and needlework in particular were generally carried out by the upper class whereas as less skilled ‘crafts’ were created by the lower class.

“Craftsmen in early Victorian England were mostly rural and lower working class. The members of the new Movement were middle and upper class. So they needed something ‘better than just craft’ hence the role of the term ‘arts’. Right there a strange and unhappy dance-macarbre between art and craft begins.”(Clark, 2010:446)

Modern Craft

There are a number of contemporary artisans who now use traditional embroidery techniques in their artwork. This may be subvert our existing opinions on these techniques, or to use traditional skills in a new and exciting way. Our perception of textiles being feminine and decorative can be used as a way to inform the narrative of a piece.

As embroidery is almost always secondary to the function of an object, artist Jenny Hart tries to create pieces where embroidery is the substance of the work itself.

“Artist Severija from Lithuania for example, is am international gallery artist working with craft techniques. She works in cross stitch, but with drilled metal surfaces instead of the traditional fabric, deliberately choosing this discipline in order to ‘raise the doubt in the traditional hierarchy of art, between what is usually called ‘high art’ and less valuable art’” (Waterhouse, 2010:8)


Writing in ‘Out of the Ordinary’, Adamson states “Craft today, out there in the culture, is entirely amoral. One can make no ethical or social claims on way or another for it. The new attitudes towards craft are not about enacting social change, but about fashion, a delightful play of one style among others.” (Adamson in Britton, 2007:13)

Does this mean craft has no place in today’s society? Should we lose these skills or are they still important to our historical story? Although crafting may not be as popular today I feel it can still be a powerful tool to pass on powerful messages. A number of artists believe digital designs compromise the quality of the work.  Emily Peacock still uses hand embroidery to ensure her pieces are high quality and retain integrity.


Although digital production may have resulted in loss of techniques, handmade needlework can be used as a way to push back against mass production and consumerism.

“Lucy Sparrow …works mainly in felt to create art that evokes delight and emotional responses from nearly everyone who sees it. Her world is very much about having an emotional response to the work she produces and to bring people closer to her creations. Lucy’s work has often been described as childlike because of the bright primary colours that she uses and the quirky little touches that she adds to almost everything she makes. All ages delight in the ingenious way she subverts everyday objects and turns household objects to life with playful faces and a joie de vivre that is totally infectious.” (Sparrow, 2017:Online)


Subversive Stitch

In a similar way a number of  craftspeople have used traditional crafts such as needlework in an act of defiance. In the same way historical needlework depicts the culture of the time so does contemporary needlework.

“The art of embroidery has been the means of educating women into the feminine ideal, and of providing that they have attained it, but it has also provided a weapon of resistant to the constraints of femininity.” (Parker, 2012:11)

Textiles designer Hannah Hill, created a popular meme in traditional stitch as a way to comment on the common opinion society has on embroidery. Fine artist Tracey Emin has used stitch in a number of her pieces as a way to raise questions about the value of the handmade in the digital age.

Joetta Maue uses embroidery due to it’s slow meditative labour and the role in the history of the women’s voice. She created her work on vintage linens as she hopes to create a narrative between her and the women of the past.



Craftivism is a form of activism which typically incorporates elements of anti-capitalism, environmentalism and third-wave feminism. It is centred on the practices of craft and  what are traditionally be referred to as “domestic arts”. It has the ability to create a sense of community as it uses the social process of collective empowerment, action, expression and negotiation. By leaving stitched pieces in public spaces craftivists aim to engage people in a discussion about current political or social issues. It is also a form of guerrilla kindness

“a global movement of likeminded individuals united by their belief that crafts can bring positive social change…“I think it makes so much sense to engage MPs in a respectful, encouraging way rather than telling them what to do and think,” (Harris, 2013:Online)


This is similar to the textile work of women in the Suffragette movement. While imprisoned in Holloway,  Janie Terrero embroidered the names of all the hunger strikers who were being held as punishment for their participation in the window smashing campaign of March 1912 on a square of fabric.  Through her textile work and letters to her husband she helps to ‘clothe’ women’s history of this period. She also showed the general public of the time that members of the resistance were of the upper and middle classes.


In 2017 the Pussyhat project “… aims to serve as a visual representation of unhappiness with the Trump residency as hordes of knitters – mostly women – have started crafting handmade pink caps to wear at the demonstration.”(Young, 2017:Online) Women knitted pink hats to be worn at the women’s marches against Trump all across the globe. This became a recognisable sign of your beliefs and a way to create a community as women stood together around the world  with a common goal. I also feel these will be a strong visual representation of the political climate at this time.


In conclusion I feel textiles is a very powerful tool to portray a message and document a period in time. Due to our ingrained historical knowledge it can be used to challenge our perceptions or build a community. Furthermore it can pass on a important messages through generations and can be used as a way to bond with family members.



  • Britton Newell, L (2007) Out Of The Ordinary: Spectacular Craft. London: V&A Publications.
  • Clark, G (2010) The Craft Reader: How Envy Killed The Crafts. Oxford: Berg.
  • O’Connor, K. (2010) Gender and Women’s Leadership: A Reference Handbook, Volume 1. California: Sage Publications Inc.
  • Parker, R (2012) The Subversive Stitch: Embroidery and the Making of the Feminine. London: I B Tauris & Co Ltd.
  • Waterhouse, J (2010) Indie Craft. London: Laurence King Publishing LTD



Figure 1: A photograph showing a equipment used for hand embroidery. [Photograph]

Figure 2: My sewing machines [Photograph]

Figure 3: Sewing Scissors inherited from my Grandmother [Photograph]

Figure 4: Me and my sister’s wearing the wedding dress and bridesmaid dress made by me and my Mother [Photograph]

Figure 5: My first embroidery [Photograph]

Figure 6: An example of my degree work [Photograph]

Figure 7: A macrame plant hanger I made for my sister [Photograph]

Figure 8&9: Cross stitch samplers made for my friends and family [Photograph]

Figure 10: Detail from the Bayeux Tapestry. BBC (2017) War and Technology Gallery [Online] [Date Accessed 19th Feb 2017]

Figure 11:  An example of Englishwork embroidery. Pinterest (2017)[Online][Date Accessed 20th Feb 2017]

Figure 12: An example of Whitework embroidery. The Royal School of Needlework (2017) Gallery: Whitework [Online] [Date Accessed 19th Feb 2017]

Figure 13: An example of Drawnwork embroidery. Pinterest (2017)[Online][Date Accessed 21st Feb 2017]

Figure 14: An example of Mountmellick embroidery. Deshilachado (2014) Puntadas 361[Online][Date Accessed 20th Feb 2017]

Figure 15: An example of Blackwork embroidery. Backstitch (2008) Blackwork Fill-In Samplers [Online] [Date Accessed 18th Feb 2017]

Figure 16: A macrame wall hanging. Esty (2017) BermudaDream [Online][Date Accessed 20th Feb 2017]

Figure 17: An example of Stumpwork. Stitched Textiles (2017) Stumpwork Gallery [Online] [Date Accessed 18th Feb 2017]

Figure 18: A painting of upper class women sewing. Rivercity screenprinting and Embroidery (2017) A Brief History of Embroidery [Online][Date Accessed 21st Feb 2017]

Figure 19: Jenny Hart’s ‘Blue Dolly’ (2003) Jenny Hart [Online] [Date Accessed 19th Feb 2017]

Figure 20: Jacinta Lodge’s ‘Be still my stitched and flaming heart’. Pinterst (2017) [Online] [Date Accessed 18th Feb 2017]

Figure 21: Matthew Cox’s ‘Necklace with Bouquet.’ Yellow Trace (2012) Embroidered X-Ray by Matthew Cox [Online] [Date Accessed 20th Feb 2017]

Figure 22: Severija Incirauskaite-Kriauneviciene’s ‘Way of Roses’. Colossal (2007) Ornate Embroidery Patterns Stitched into Metallic Objects [Online] [Date Accessed 19th Feb 2017]

Figure 23: Emily Peacock’s ‘Kiss’ cushion. Mr X Stitch (2009) Stitchgasm – Emily Peacock [Online] [Date Accessed 18th Feb 2017]

Figure 24: Lucy Sparrow’s Felt Corner Shop. The Guardian (2014) Sew fantastic! Artist Lucy Sparrow fills corner shop with items made of felt [Online] [Date Accessed 21st Feb 2017]

Figure 25: Hannah Hill’s ‘Arthur Meme’. Hello Giggles (2016) This artist put a feminist twist on the Arthur meme and we’re SO HERE FOR IT [Online] [Date Accessed 21st Feb 2017]

Figure 26: Tracey Emin’s Psycho Slut. Identical Eye (2010) Tracey Emin Blankets [Online] [Date Accessed 19th Feb 2017]

Figure 27: Joetta Maue’s ‘Fucked’. Flickr (2009) [Online][Date Accessed 21st Feb 2017]

Figure 28: Cross-stitched mask on Antony Gormley statue, Crosby Beach. Flikr (2011) Craftivist Collective [Online] [Date Accessed 21st Feb 2017]

Figure 29: Embroidery by Janie Terrero made in Holloway Prison:1912. Museum of London (2017)  [Online] [Date Accessed 20th Feb 2017]

Figure 30: The #ICANTKEEPQUIET choir preforming at the Women’s March on Washington. New York Times (2017) ‘I Can’t Keep Quiet, I’m a One-Woman Riot’ song goes insanely viral [Online] [Date Accessed 21st Feb 2017]





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s