Crafting culture, fabricating identity: gender and textiles in Limerick lace, Clare embroidery and the Deerfield Society of Blue and White Needlework.
Cahill, Susan Elizabeth
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My thesis examines how identity was constructed in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century amidst the growing possibilities of the cross-cultural transfer of ideas and products by analysing case studies of women-owned and -operated craft organisations: Limerick Lace and Clare Embroidery (Ireland) and the Deerfield Society of Blue and White Needlework (United States). I contend that the increased accessibility of print culture, travel and tourism, and World’s Fairs enabled the women responsible for these craft organisations to integrate a pastiche of artistic influences – those recognised as international, national, and local – in order to create a specific and distinct style of craft. The Arts and Crafts movement, with its ideas about art, craft, design, and display, provided a supra-national language of social and artistic reform that sought to address the harshness of industrialisation and to elevate the status of craft and design. The national framework of revival movements – the Celtic Revival in Ireland and Colonial Revival in the United States – promoted the notion that Folk and peasant culture was fundamental to each country’s heritage, and its preservation and renewal was essential to fostering and legitimising a strong national identity. I critically access the way these case studies, which were geographically separate yet linked through chronology, gender, and craft, operated within these international and national movements, yet they negotiated these larger ideologies to construct identities that also reflected their local circumstances. My intention is to unite social history with material culture in order to investigate the ways in which the discussion and display of the crafts, and the artistic components of the textiles themselves operated as a vehicle for establishing identity.