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Lynne Stein’s new publication from Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, Shedding the Shackles – Women’s Empowerment Through Craft is a personal treatise of the fascinating connections she has made through her travels around the globe discovering the women, expressions, communities, processes, economics, pride, and histories of global textile traditions.
I enjoyed slowly reading the narratives she provides about the lives of these women, their cultures, and their textile traditions. Her investigations are personal and deeply fleshed out, giving the reader a solid sense of not only time and place, but the historical background to the cultural fiber expressions.
Organized into two large chapters, “Women and Craft” and “Initiatives and Enterprises”, Stein reveals the power textile art production has, both socially and economically to the individual and the community. The creative expression of these global textile artists is born of necessity to support family while tending to their homes. It allows them to not only provide for their loved ones, but also create the pathway for passing down the traditions from one generation to another. The pride of contribution can be felt through these folk art expressions. There is joy, inclusion, and empowerment from the women’s work.
I particularly love that the author also references the power of healing and solace that stitch has across the practice of textile art. From the brief highlight of Judith Scott’s tragic life and ultimate discovery of voice through fiber, to the Bosna Quilt Werkstatt’s story of the collective being born from the ravages of the Bosnian War, Stein makes sure to reference the meditative and mindful qualities working with thread and fiber, and the power of process and material in mitigating traumatic experiences. Fiber and textile are an act of celebration, community, caring, and the creative.
I feel a deep connection to the individual and collective artists in this volume of stories, which leads me to think about my own decades long fiber journey. This book takes the reader around the world through story and image. But for me, the stories provided a lens to reflect on my own life’s fiber journey. I have not been marginalized or subjected to extreme traumatic experiences. I may not have had everything I wanted, but I surely had everything I needed. Having said that, my life has had it’s share of pain and heartache. There have been times of loneliness and confusion. And, there have been times of economic hardship within my American middle class life. Thread, fiber, and fabric have been my own constant tranquil space. My fiber journey began as a young girl, and gave me solace through the disintegration of my family. It excited me as a young mother, creating clothing for my daughter. It brought in extra money during the many years money was tight and allowed for just that little extra something. And, during the fear and isolation of the 2020 pandemic, it grounded me and provided me comfort as I wove fabric one thread at a time.
I’d like to leave you with a pertinent quote from the author:
Are shackles actually being shed? And if so, to what degree? Quite apart from my sheer admiration of the contents of their creative output, I have continuously asked myself these questions whilst engaging with, and seeking answer from the many hugely helpful contributors in this book. Amongst several cultures and societies, in addition to their various domestic tasks, the actual workload for women increases considerably, when adding the commercial practice of their craft into the mix. However, at grassroots level, perhaps it is social cohesion, the sense of security derived from the ability to independently earn an income, and not least of all, the preservation, protection, and sometimes development of ancient, indigenous techniques which remain key factors.pg. 60, Shedding the Shackles, Lynne Stein
This is my favorite aspect of the book – connecting me to the women of the world and understanding at a core level the why of their making in relation to my own. We are not so different….I will revisit this book time and again, and dive more deeply into global textile traditions. Take some time to travel along with Lynne, you will be glad you did!