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‘Various Pleasant Fiction’: Embroidering Textiles and Texts in Early Modern England

Canavan, Claire (2017) ‘Various Pleasant Fiction’: Embroidering Textiles and Texts in Early Modern England. PhD thesis, University of York.

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This thesis considers the role of the needle in early modern English culture and thought, with particular attention to its relationship with textual media and practices. Drawing together textual and material evidence, it overturns assumptions that needles were subordinate to pens and argues instead that needlework was a significant and mainstream cultural practice and form. Contrary to the critical tendency to regard needlework as a feminizing activity or women’s interest, sewing engaged both men and women, in ways which were practical, connoisseurial and conceptual. Stitchcraft was recognized as a psychophysiologically, spiritually and socially productive practice which was capable of crafting complex ideas. It equally provided an illuminating model for practices of textual composition, exegesis and book use. In material and metaphorical encounters, needles shaped pens, as much as the converse. Chapter one explores the intersection of men’s and women’s textile handiwork. Examining hitherto neglected male needle skills, it reveals how men, women, boys and girls collaborated in domestic and commercial environments, and how needles constructed as well as challenged discourses of masculinity. Chapter two considers how practices of sewing were combined with devotional and aural reading practices. Drawing upon theories of skill and embodiment, this chapter refutes notions of sewing as mindless, revealing how stitchery produced desirable psychophysiological effects and heightened makers’ dexterity in companionate activities. Chapter three examines embroidered bookbindings. Alongside a handlist of extant examples, it surveys trends in design and readership, before presenting two case-studies which analyse how these covers intervened in textual hermeneutics and book use. Chapter four scrutinizes needlework narratives, examining how the fabric medium created generic and rhetorical features, and provided a model for textual storytelling. An epilogue offers an alternative critical history, imagining a pedagogical space in which needles, rather than pens, take pride of place as tools of creative and aesthetic expression.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Embroidery, needlework, sewing, textiles, embodiment, gender, bookbinding, reading, narrative, rhetoric.
Academic Units: The University of York > English and Related Literature (York)
Depositing User: Miss Claire Canavan
Date Deposited: 09 Aug 2017 14:14
Last Modified: 09 Aug 2017 14:14
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/17554

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