Textile artist Suzann Thompson believes that hand work is a deeply engrained element of activism in women’s culture and speaks to the ties between “stitching” and activism, citing how American women have engaged in these kinds of activities since the Revolutionary War when they boycotted British shipments of finished cloth and instead, wove their own rough cloth to make clothing and protest the Crown’s taxation policies.
Continuing in this tradition, her upcoming exhibit “Celebrate Doilies!” honors this heritage of needlework. She says that, “that Texas, especially rural Texas, has a deep heritage of crochet.” Women might not have had much, if any, expendable income but they could usually buy thread and used that to beautify their homes. Crochet was a cheap way to relax, be creative, and unwind, especially after a long day on the farm.
Thompson’s artwork uses vintage and antique doilies, combined with other fibers and embellishments, to create new works that honor and highlight the original doilies. She has been collecting doilies for a while, not certain what to do with them, when she overheard a man comment that he had many doilies made by female family members and that he did not want to part with them, but he didn’t know how to “deal with them,” either. That’s when she decided she would work do a series of doily inspired artwork that focuses on family heritage and legacy.
Two themes run through the upcoming “Celebrate Doilies!” exhibit: frugality and art as therapy. She tells the story of how a woman told her that her father crocheted at the end of the day to unwind. There were five kids in the family and he said that he had to crochet because it “calmed himself down.” She tells another story about a doily that was made entirely out of the string saved from chicken feed sacks. Talk about frugal!
To test out that possibility, Thompson saved the string from five large bags of cat food and was able to crochet a small heart. She knows now how many dozens of bags of feed it required to make that large doily and yet this homesteader persisted, using what materials she could pull to hand to beautify her home and, without realizing it, left a legacy of her own creativity.
Thompson says that doilies and other handwork “tie us to our past and our families.” She recalls a quote from a woman that she once read who said of a crocheted blanket, “every inch of this yarn went through my grandmother’s hands. Her DNA is on this afghan.”
I’m not sure if the pussy hats knitted and crocheted over the last several months will be equally as valued in the future as have crocheted doilies but they are a current example of how handwork and craft are inherently personal acts that cross over into the political. If the “personal is political,” as second wave feminists like to say, then crocheted doilies are a prime example of how such small, inconsequential items can reverberate over time, becoming embedded with deep meaning.
In addition to Thompson’s art, poet Sandi Horton is also featured in the “Celebrate Doilies!” Horton’s poetry and family crochet are included, and she will read a selection of her work at the show’s closing reception August 19th at the Cross Timbers Fine Arts Council.
This traveling exhibit begins in Stephenville and then moves to Granbury. If you are interested in hosting this exhibit, please contact the artist via her website. (link)
Additionally, Thompson is raising funds through Kickstarter to help the exhibit reach more people.