Stitching (In)Significant Women

  • Catherine MacTaggart

    Student thesis: Master's ThesisMaster of Arts by Research


    This Masters By Research was instigated through personal experience of working in a male dominated manual industry. It consists of a body of practice and supporting research. The practice consists of five samplers and related artwork in mixed media that seeks to present some women, known to me, in ways that challenge the preconceptions of worth and value in society. Kindness, exercising intelligence by solving crosswords, and being outspoken to positions of power are values that have not been typically represented in institutions. My work identifies these values and represents them using stitch, which has had associations with female domesticity and submissiveness and therefore has not been widely represented in museums and galleries.

    The thesis supports this work through research on samplers, contemporary practitioners and interviews with people related to those being represented. Contextual research within museums and galleries suggests the representation of women is evolving from woman as domestic, passive and sexualised, towards woman as active, competent and diverse. My research extends this by identifying and representing specific women who would be classified by society as working class and therefore overlooked, identifying what their activities were, and why their friends and families valued them.

    Primary research, specific to each woman represented on a sampler, included oral history interviews, a questionnaire; object analysis and visits to archives and gardens. Secondary research, about female representation or a specific issue related to one of the samplers, has been conducted via reading books and articles and attending lectures at the National Gallery, as well as visiting museums, galleries and National Trust properties.

    The above research identified values about specific women which were developed into imagery. Narratives provided by friends and family led to phrases and objects associated with the individual being used as inspiration for sketchbook work (Toilet Cleaners concertina sketchbook) and the creation of mixed media art objects (Payroll, Key Fob). Sketchbook development used tools (identity cards, tampons, sewing machine) and media (dressmaking patterns, toilet roll, pay envelopes) to heighten the narrative within the art. The sketchbook development of imagery (lino-print car seats in the Ford Machinist sketchbook) led to design features on the samplers (production line of car seats as the embroidered border). The values identified centred around verbal and practical skills, work ethic, and kindness towards other people.

    The samplers and supporting artwork aim to facilitate conversation between viewers to identify their own (in)significant women for their diverse roles and contributions to family and society. The outcome of this body of work is to bring a broader range of narratives to the cultural heritage sector to inform our present and future, by foregrounding under-represented and minority perspectives.

    Date of AwardJul 2020
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • Coventry University

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