The Creativity Loophole: Needlework, Social Conventions, and the Permissibility of Creative Expression for Early American Women

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Graham, Alyce
needlework; sampler; Richmond Theatre Fire; Arts and Humanities; History
thesis / dissertation description
This thesis investigates creative expression through needlework by wealthy or elite women in the eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century, focusing on women in the United States South. This inquiry begins in broad terms and proceeds to the close examination of one particular needlework sampler held in the collection of the Valentine Richmond History Center. The first chapter uses prescriptive literature popular in the eighteenth century to establish the restrictive, obedient, and subservient expectations for women’s behavior. The second chapter explores the reasons that the same books that prohibited many forms of pleasure promoted needlework as an acceptable activity for women. This chapter addresses the practical aspect of needlework, the presence and significance of textiles in the home, and the ways needlework expressed creativity. The final chapter analyzes a needlework sampler stitched in 1812, connecting it both with the themes introduced in the first two chapters and a wider range of issues.