The Sewing Needle: Technology Piercing the Science/Art Divide
Maura C. Flannery, Division of Computer Science, Mathematics and Science, College of Professional Studies
I am exploring the use of an apparently simple piece of technology, the sewing needle, and how it has been used to express scientific ideas. The needle may not seem to be a high-tech device, but since the 19th century it has been incorporated in increasingly sophisticated machines for sewing and embroidery. I contend that one of the reasons the needle is underappreciated is that for the last several hundred years it has been associated primarily with women’s work. Because of this, many women artists have used it to expressive themselves and to comment on their world, including the living world. It is the work of these artists that I want to explore.
Despite enhanced sewing technology, women continue to do hand sewing and embroidery. In most cases in the Western world, this is more as an art than as a necessity. The term “fiber arts” has been coined to describe those, primarily women, who work in sewing, weaving, knitting, basketry and related fields. Fiber arts are, for the most part, considered part of crafts, rather than fine art, but there are also now a number of fine artists who use fiber arts specifically because of what these say about gender issues.
Many women artists have used the needle to comment on major scientific issues of our day. Some fiber artists have also commented directly on the technology, such as those working with the only remaining Schiffli machine in Britain. This was an early type of mechanized embroidery which is now used to produce expressive pieces, including some with biological themes. Rowena Ardern’s The Endangered (2007) is an Schiffli-embroidered tablecloth decorated with British wildflowers that are becoming increasingly rare, as the Schiffli itself is.
In this presentation, I examine the art and science behind such works and what they say about gender, technology, and the living world.