“Knitting is the saving of life, Adrian has taken it up too”: Needlework, Gender and the Bloomsbury Group”

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2 Citations (Scopus)


This chapter was commissioned in 2017 for a collection of essays on the role of modern textiles in the construction of individual and social identities. It was and published in 2020. It draws on research conducted in archives in public collections such as the Tate Britain and the National Trust, as well as material in private collections such as the Charleston Trust, conducted during 2014-2016. Locating textile production in literary modernism, which has not been done before, revealed a hidden history of transgressive textiles within the history of the Bloomsbury group (i.e. the loose network of artists, writers and critics who worked from the Bloomsbury district of central London, during the 1900s-1940s).

The focus of this chapter is on how in Britain, during the inter-war years, displays of textiles designed and made by male aristocrats, celebrities and artists, as well as wounded war veterans, fuelled debate about the gendered nature of textiles. However, well before the First World War male writers and artists associated with the Bloomsbury group, such as Lytton Strachey, Roger Fry and Duncan Grant had expressed a serious interest in textiles, as had the women of the group, including Vanessa Bell, Ethel Grant, Lady Ottoline Morrell and Virginia Woolf. Analysis of the work they produced, in the context of contemporary debates about gender, psychoanalysis and occupational therapy, reveals that for Bloomsbury’s women textiles offered a means to contest the “feminine ideal” whilst for its men it formed part of a critique of heteronormative masculinity and construction of a new queer identity. Bloomsbury’s textiles can be read as a subversion of highly feminized Victorian cross-stitch and Berlin woolwork, yet equally it played with new cultural strategies of effeminacy and camp. This chapter offers a completely new understanding of how textiles inscribed yet also resisted normative ideas of gender and sexuality in the modern period.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationStitching the Self: Identity and the Needle Arts
EditorsJohanna Amos, Lisa Binkley
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherBloomsbury Publishing
Pages67-79, 187-193
Number of pages20
ISBN (Electronic)9781350070400
ISBN (Print)9781350070387
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 9 Jan 2020


  • Gender
  • Art
  • Craft
  • Modernism


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