At Mr X Stitch we love to review textile art and embroidery books for you. There are so many great books to discover, packed with needlework inspiration and textile techniques, so we dive into each book to find out what’s good, what’s bad and let you know why you should pick it up.
Within Unravelling Women’s Art, P.L. Henderson symbolically unties the woven structures of female textile artists and their work. She focuses on the links between the artists she has curated together, examining the messages found within their work, providing fascinating insights into the finer details of female textile art. Over twenty artist interviews back up her interpretations; embroidery, weaving, sculpture and patchwork are all covered, as well as notes on their cultural context, historical meaning and identity within the contemporary arts field.
I will keep my opening introduction light and airy:
Are you a student, a researcher, or simply someone with a love of textile art and sick of reading lighter weight books? With so many artist interviews, examples of their work and in depth studies; will Unravelling Women’s Art: Creators, Rebels, & Innovators in Textile Arts, written by PL Henderson and published by Supernova books inspire and empower you to create?
About The Author
P.L. Henderson was born in the North of England, however she now lives in Portugal. She has a degree in Art History and often writes for magazines ‘ART UK’ and ‘Culture Matters’. She was involved in the writing of Phaidon’s book ‘Great Women Artists’ produced in 2019. She has created the social media project @womensart1 as a platform to discuss and promote women artists and their work. Her twitter account is worth visiting along with her #WomensArt website for more information. From a reading of this book, I believe that she has truly showcased her own talent as an art historian as well as specialist in cultural research, which she has considered in relation to this books thematic content. She doesn’t fight to prove her own worth as a writer, she has evidenced it obviously in her writing itself.
Who Is This Book Aimed At?
I am not going to waste words here. This is a deep publication, developed for the intelligent and enquiring reader. It has been reviewed by universities and thus sits well in this setting, as part of one’s academic library. It is, of course, a Textile art publication, thus those who are Textile based in practice will enjoy this book. However it is also so rich in art history and cultural content, it will fascinate all who are interested in art or who prefer a book focused on women’s art in particular.
What is so important about this book in relation to any other Textile art book on the market?
I think it’s important to first analyse why this book has been written by P.L. Henderson. As a fellow female working in the arts, I found myself questioning how I felt about my practice as a female, not just as an artist. Have I ever felt passed over? Do I currently feel the need to prove myself, because I am female?
In years past, we have all heard the phrase ‘women’s work’. This is generally spoke in relation to jobs within the home which the women living in the house would be expected to fulfil. I.E. The cooking and cleaning within the home. Obviously in the world we currently live in, this has changed and developed and the lines of what is expected and actually takes place have been blurred. So when I reflect of this form of expectation and then focus on ‘women’s art’, I myself as an artist try to identify if I feel pigeon holed or what do I feel that a version of what is expected of me to produce is prevalent within my working practice? When I myself think of the words ‘women’s art’, do I immediately bring to mind a visual image of what this looks like? Does it sit in a certain field? Is it technique led? Interestingly, Henderson herself discusses this right at the beginning of the Introduction. Henderson states that really, there is no such thing as ‘woman’s art’, however it can be said that there are certain artistic practices which women are more inclined to. This is a healthy way of looking at it; we do have to take culture into the mix too, as it may be that our location does influence our craft. As human beings, no matter how hard we fight the urge, there will always be vestiges of what is expected; elements of surprise when things are not as we might imagine.
I transgress, moving back to what motivated and drove Henderson to write this book, she actually touches upon this early on in the books text. Really her research and experiance have led her to a focused consideration of Textile art as a field over art in general, as yes, it has got plenty of links relating to females over males. Within her writing, she acknowledges that yes there are male Textile artists, she does not ignore them, however it is her focus to concentrate on women, so personally, I don’t feel she is at all blindsided or biased in her writing, bringing together this book in an almost fighting manner. I believe it to be a balanced book, she isn’t trying to prove a point, she’s blithely bringing together that obviously exists; a rich and diverse amount of talented artists, who happen to be female.
Recently Henderson mentioned in an interview that she herself feels she did not credit her own mother and grandmother with as much thanks as she could have, maybe taking for granted their ability to work with textiles in needed ways at the time. It has helped her personally ‘reassess’ her own feelings within this area.
These honest revelations have led me to rethink my own views and familial memories. Why am I who I am? What led me to be an artist, working often in Textiles? There you go, already I am admitting something, I hate being pigeon holed myself. I do not want to categorise myself as a Textile artist, or any type of one area in art over another. On my own website, I describe myself as a ‘practitioner within the arts’. Why? I can honestly say that it is not due to believing Textiles is a lesser craft, something I do not want to nail myself down to. It is simply that as a woman working in the arts, I still cannot decide who I am, who I want to be. I love too many fields of art and don’t feel the need to identify myself with one over another. This gets complicated when I am asked what I do as a job; yet I can honestly say I have never felt uncomfortable or judged as to what I should be.
Unpicking this subject is healthy and that’s what I have focused on within my review. This isn’t a one woman band (from Henderson’s point of view) nor a riot, this is a celebration of artists, who yes are women and who yes, have visually described and evidenced their own individual talent enough to be worthy a place in this wonderful publication.
I am not going to bother looking at every thread or detail in this book, as really you are going to have fun doing that yourself. I will look at key points:
There are nine main chapters, all divided into a similar layout with artist interviews and images. I think the seperation is a strong point, the text would be too lengthy if not broken up.
Putting the layout in a nutshell, every chapter has a title, i.e. ‘Chapter 1: Representation and Textile Arts’. There is then a lengthy piece of text looking at this subject, its place, history, cultural aspects, artist who have identified with this….etc. Then we get a few key artist interviews, for example within this chapter we discover Michelle Kingdom and Jenny Dutton. We are treated with beautiful images of their work along with insights into their working practice. This means that the book itself will be a great tool for those studying Textiles as well as those who enjoy learning about Textiles as a subject.
At no point do I feel that Henderson is giving a one sided view. She has written the book in more of an art historian way, which is no surprise as this is really who she is as an artist herself. She reveals so much information, yet does not give a direct opinion which could be challenged. She lets the artists speak for themselves, either via a disclosure of what she has uncovered, or via one to one interviews. The evidence of each ones’ worth is placed upon us, not forced upon us. However acceptance is not negotiable, appreciation of each artist and the culture and history which surrounds elements of Textile art; just are. We cannot argue or debate, the evidence will always weight against us as individuals.
Yes, we all, including myself have styles or artists we are more drawn to, things we like over another, yet we cannot prove one better than another and here within this book, Henderson has not tried to.
Putting it succinctly, it is all good, it is all exciting in its own way…just let it be and don’t overthink it. The content in a joy to read about, let’s all just relax and let it ignite us to create and to appreciate creators out there.
When it comes down to it, the act of creating, yes seen in the way of Textile art here, is uplifting and optimistic in itself. As the well known lady Audrey Hepburn was once quoted to have said ‘To plant a garden in to believe in tomorrow’. I see art as having the same vision; to create is an expression of intent for a future; one where the art will be there.
Image wise, we are gifted many a page full; this book may be a weightier read, however the imagery makes it beautiful too. It is too interesting to be bored with and it does not feel like an arduous ‘only for those who are studious’ read.
I was not given many images to use within this review, however that does not mean it lacks an abundance of them in reality. View it as a source of saving the surprise, giving a feeling of curiosity which will implore and bring about your decision to purchase a copy.
What Makes This Book Special?
The author has successfully brought together the work and words of so many amazing artists. Looking at them all tucked into one publication gave us a new and reformed appreciation for those involved.
I have found myself to be excited, anxious to read more, yet torn between dropping it down for a while in order to put action into the inspiration and get going once again with my own creating. When I am reading back my text here, I can pin point better what makes this book special; it has elongation on its side, it is one which we will just keep coming back to as it has a place in history and culture no matter the time and date on the clock – timeless.
Anything Wrong With The Book?
I am not going to waste time listing and thinking about who will not like this book. It will not suit those looking for a light highly pictorial over text publication. This book truly picks apart so many areas of textile art, which is wonderful for those who are really interested but may be too deep for those who are lesser so. That really says it all; if you like Textile art or whatever you wish to consider as art, you should enjoy it. There. Said.
Finishing off my review, I find myself coming from the pages stronger and inspired. Why is this? Because as I noted way back at the beginning, this book has a positive, happy vibe. It is not a protest, it is an evidence, throughly research based answer of what women’s art can be. There are no boundaries.
Handing in my own application to The Royal Academy Summer Exhibition this year, I consider my expectations. Do I feel that I may have had more success as a male? Do I feel that because the piece I am submitting will be classed as Textile art that I have less of a chance? Actually, it is a no on both accounts. Yes, we cannot hide from the fact that there are judgements out there and yes at times, there are fights, judgments to tear down or evidence as false within what is classed as art and the aspect of Textile art being appreciated as a ‘fine art medium’. The fact is though, our world has changed and does constantly. One persons opinion will be old tomorrow, only fresh today. We all have a freedom of expression, inside and outside; how we use this freedom can be within our control to I minute or larger extent.
Compelling and rich in content, with twenty artist interviews and an overload of amazing information, this book will be loved by artists, students and all who truly love this art form. What are you waiting for?