Summerbook #8: Threads of Life


 Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle, by Clare Hunter

We all know I'm a sucker for a book about the history of sewing or textiles.  Clare Hunter is a Scots woman (from Glasgow) and has done a lot of community work around sewing, so she's in a great position to write a book about the history.

Hunter divides her book into loosely themed chapters, such as 'Loss,' Protest,' 'Captivity,' etc.  She bounces all over history, discussing embroidery therapy for wounded World War I soldiers and then moving on to the elaborate banners once used in marches -- every community group seems to have had several, and the suffragists' banners were of course embroidered instead of printed.  Then it's off to group projects for urban pride, or the patchwork 'liberation skirts' made by Dutch women after World War II, or Hmong storycloths.  She goes all over the world in this way, just telling stories about how stitching brings people together.

It's a fascinating romp through place and time, and I do recommend it, for those interested in sewing and perhaps also for those who have no idea of the depth and importance of said sewing.  But, I also found Hunter's prose to be ....overwritten.  She's trying so hard to convey the depth of her feeling about stitching that it winds up a bit overwrought -- though not nearly as much or as self-consciously as what Robert MacFarlane perpetrates (and hey, people love him, so maybe I'm alone in this assessment).

On the whole, though, very enjoyable and informative, and while I'm well aware of the importance of her material, I think many people do not realize how large and deep a topic stitching is -- and if you're in the habit of using or wearing stitched items, perhaps you should know more!

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