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

The Blurb (from Goodreads):

In 1970s Argentina, mothers marched in headscarves embroidered with the names of their “disappeared” children. In Tudor, England, when Mary, Queen of Scots, was under house arrest, her needlework carried her messages to the outside world. From the political propaganda of the Bayeux Tapestry, World War I soldiers coping with PTSD, and the maps sewn by schoolgirls in the New World, to the AIDS quilt, Hmong story clothes, and pink pussyhats, women and men have used the language of sewing to make their voices heard, even in the most desperate of circumstances.

Threads of Life is a chronicle of identity, protest, memory, power, and politics told through the stories of needlework. Clare Hunter, master of the craft, threads her own narrative as she takes us over centuries and across continents—from medieval France to contemporary Mexico and the United States, and from a POW camp in Singapore to a family attic in Scotland—to celebrate the age-old, universal, and underexplored beauty and power of sewing. Threads of Life is an evocative and moving book about the need we have to tell our story.

My Thoughts:

This was such a fascinating read! It was full of thing that chimed with me – the story of the Bayeux tapestry (which I have written about several times on my blog) and Mary, Queen of Scots’ and her exquisite embroidery (she appears in my novel The Puzzle Ring), and embroidery written in secret codes (which I am writing about now) – and I learned so much along the way too.  I love to sew (though I do it very badly), and I love the idea of sewing being a subversive art that allows people to express themselves and communicate their feelings in such a simple fundamental way. As Clare Hunter writes: You cut a length of tread, knot one end and the pull the other through the eye of a needle. You take a piece of fabric and push your needle into one side of the cloth and then pull it out on the other … You don’t need expensive tools, or years of training, or a university degree. You just need hands.

You don’t need to love sewing to enjoy this book (though it may make you want to try y0ur hand at it). Because Threads of Life simply takes the history of sewing as a lens to look at human history, with a particular emphasis on sewing as a means of self-expression for the hurt, the maimed, the marginalised, and the powerless. Most (but not all) are women. My only quibble – I would have loved an illustrated copy! But I searched up images on the net as I read, and I loved that as well. A really beautiful, thoughtful book.

You might also like to read my review of A Library: A Catalogue of Wonders by Stuart Kells:

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Kate Forsyth
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