Lynn Skordal, “The Needle and the Sword: The Early Women’s Movement in Twenty-Four Hankies”
Artist: Lynn Skordal (Mercer Island, WA)
Title: The Needle and the Sword: The Early Women’s Movement in Twenty-Four Hankies
Medium/technique(s): 24 embroidered and embellished vintage handkerchiefs mounted on stiffened cotton and calico pages, cloth-covered board covers Japanese-style ribbon stab binding.
Edition size: Unique
Number of pages: 24
Dimensions, open: 11″h x 24″x 1″d
Dimensions, closed: 11″h x 12.75″ w x 1.25″d
The Needle and the Sword is a one-of-a-kind fabric book created from 24 vintage handkerchiefs and doilies mounted on pages of cotton and calico. Covers are cream cloth-covered boards with lace appliques, bound with white ribbon in a modified Japanese stab binding style.
The book was commissioned by the Athenaeum of Philadelphia and Philadelphia Center for the Book for an exhibit entitled “From Seneca Falls to Philadelphia: Fourth of July 1876 and the Women of the Centennial.” It commemorates the 1876 “Declaration of the Rights of the Women of the United States” written by leading feminists on the occasion of America’s first centennial celebration. Vintage handkerchiefs and doilies have been decorated with quotes from the Declaration and old photographs of suffragettes, embellished with hand-embroidery, heat-transfer images and watercolor pencil.
The use of embroidered and decorated handkerchiefs in this book is particularly appropriate. Needle-work was the traditional and societal-approved pursuit of the proper woman. Suffragettes used their needle skills in a political context, turning their sewing needles into swords. Mindful of the trade union banners of the 1830s, these women created flags and banners using fabric, embroidery, embellishment and paint, with fiery slogans and messages demanding equal treatment and justice. They proudly hoisted their heretical banners and flags as they picketed government buildings, gave public speeches, and paraded the street and boulevards of their towns. Suffragettes embroidered their signatures on petitions, and we have several examples of handkerchiefs that were embroidered by imprisoned suffragettes. Embroidery, the pursuit of genteel well-behaved women became a weapon in the fight of women for equality and justice.
The edges of the fabric pages are not finished and some embroidery threads remain untrimmed because the struggle for equality and self-determination is not yet done.