‘The work of masculine fingers’: the Disabled Soldiers’ Embroidery Industry, 1918–1955

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Operating between 1918 and 1955 the Disabled Soldiers’ Embroidery Industry was perhaps the most successful and high-profile scheme that aimed to help disabled combatants, returning from the First World War, back to employment through the small-scale production of domestic and luxury textiles marketed to middle class and aristocratic consumers. Its contribution to the modern revival of interest in embroidery is clear from its widespread promotion in newspapers and women’s magazines, its relationship with manufacturers such as Pearsall’s sewing threads and Weldon’s mail-order sewing patterns, its inclusion in major exhibitions of embroidery in the period and the several major commissions it garnered until after the Second World War. This brief analysis of its history, made possible by the recent discovery of a small archive of its papers and a number of surviving embroideries, affords some insight into how masculine identity and the disabled body have operated as active rather than passive agents in design history. This article, although providing a basic overview of this business, also offers an interrogation of the interrelationship of masculinity, disability, craft and interwar modernity in Britain that draws upon design history, gender and sexuality theory and disability studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-23
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Design History
Issue number1
Early online date21 Oct 2016
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 1 Feb 2018


  • Disability
  • Masculinity
  • Embroidery
  • Design History
  • First World War


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