Thread of Goddesses — sewing and stories, by Gabriela Caruso
This relationship between female roles, domestic work and care was what associated them to this capacity of creation of community ties. They are the ones who pass on knowledge, who build the threads that interlace the lives of people and the affection that sustains relationships. That is why female figures, in mythology, are assigned the skill and responsibility of weaving and creating, and thus sewing and interlacing the threads that, in their mixtures, become something more than the sum of different individuals, become life, become community. READ MORE
The Moirai are figures in Greek mythology in charge of elaborating, weaving and interrupting the thread of life of all beings. Their power was incontestable and not even Zeus could intervene, as this work maintained the natural order of the Universe, the three Spinners of Fate, as they were known, where responsible for people’s future.
In several mythologies, women and women and thread tracing are linked to the essential stages of existence – the beginning and end of life. Weaving is creating, it is telling stories. Sewing is a metaphor not only for life, but for life in community. The several threads united by careful work result in something new, full of meanings that go far beyond the simple sum of lines.
The perception that weaving is a woman’s function is based on cultural and social norms that historically associated sewing to female domestic work. Thus, it is an activity associated to women’s traditional roles as caretakers and housekeepers. These activities connected to the reproduction of the world, to the domestic sphere, to women and to care were, for a long time, not considered work.
Penelope Unraveling Her Work at Night, Dora Wheeler
While Ulysses fights in the Trojan War and goes on an odyssey to return to his home, Penelope, his wife, promises that she will only consider her husband to be dead and remarry when she finished the piece she is weaving. So, she weaves during the day and at night undoes all the work carried out in the morning, controlling her waiting time herself.
This relationship between female roles, domestic work and care was what associated them to this capacity of creation of community ties. They are the ones who pass on knowledge, who build the threads that interlace the lives of people and the affection that sustains relationships. That is why female figures, in mythology, are assigned the skill and responsibility of weaving and creating, and thus sewing and interlacing the threads that, in their mixtures, become something more than the sum of different individuals, become life, become community.
But caring and sewing are jobs, mostly carried out by women. And, as work, nature is manipulated in order to generate something new, imbued with meaning. And in the process of working, not only is the world transformed, but so is oneself. That is why it transforms and creates.
Some of the women from out atelier. Our daily strength, unity and talent.
Deprived of individual and political rights, many women found in sewing a means of self-expression and even of subversion of the roles assigned to them. The job of sewing, carried out in the domestic space, allowed many women to obtain a source of income and, thus, acquire greater autonomy at home. The textile industry incorporated mostly women in its workforce and the female workers of this segment led important struggles in the fight for labor rights.
Before having the right to read and write, women already sewed. With no use for pen and paper, they made threads and needles into tools to talk of themselves, place themselves in the world, communicate and construct meaning, tell stories, transmit knowledge.
In Greek mythology, Arachne appears as a young, extremely skilled weaver. Consumed by hubris, she dared to compare herself to the goddess Athena, patron of the art of weaving. Both then organized a competition and Athena embroidered the gods of Olympus in all their glory and scenes of the gods punishing mortals who rebelled against divine authority. Arachne then perfectly wove scenes of the romantic betrayals of Zeus, Athena’s father, and the terrible consequences of these encounters, in a fierce criticism of the gods and their disgrace. Athena punishes Arachne and condemns her to weave for all of eternity.
Despite the disciplinary ending typical of divine narratives, the myth illustrates how work with threads and needles becomes a means of expression of one’s personal experiences, a shared language where narratives of affection, rebellion and subversion fit. Olympus, however, is very far from here. We have our own gods to worship and challenge, our own stories to tell.
Sewing as storytelling is one of the most striking elements of visual artist Rosana Paulino’s oeuvre, who exposed the “Costura de Memória” (Sewing of Memory) exhibition in São Paulo’s Pinacoteca in 2018. Her work “Parede da Memória” (Memory Wall) perfectly illustrates the relationship between women and of sewing with the creation of the world and of a place of building their own narratives.
The work is made up of family portraits, printed as Mojos, with details added by hand by the artist, such as colors and seams with buttonhole stitches. Thus, Paulino illustrates how sewing constructs a story of her origin, of her family history and of the history of the world, mediated by the interlacing of women’s careful work.
Sewing and caring were jobs relegated to women and they transformed it into art. It is through these women’s careful work that the world is created. Sewing is creating, creating is telling.
To the seamstresses, who build the world, telling a bit about themselves at each stitch.
Gabriela Caruso is a doctor in Sociology, a researcher at the Social Theory and Latin America Studies Center (NETSAL) and a researched in the Diversity Program (FGV Rio Law School)
For more about the myths and weaving as metaphors for writing, see “O Manto De Penélope E A Teia De Aracne: Tecituras Feministas De Nietzsche” (The Shroud of Penelope And The Web Of Arachne: Nietzsche’s Feminist Weaves)
ANDRADE, Mariana. Ideação Magazine, N. 42, July/December, 2020
For more on Rosana Paulino’s “Parede da Memória” work, see:
Graichen, G., Desconci, L. . K., & Barbosa, R. A. (2021). Da caixa ao cubo: análise da obra “Parede da Memória” de Rosana Paulino (From the box to the cube: analysis of the work “Parede da Memória” by Rosana Paulino). RELACult – Latin American Studies in Culture and Society Magazine, 7(4).
Opening Photo: Parede da Memória, Rosana Paulino