Review of ‘Threads of Life’ by Clare Hunter

This is a fascinating book by a textile artist, examining the power and politics of needlecraft. It’s part memoir, part social history.

The subtitle, A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle, is a little misleading. Various cultures around the world are included, but it’s not really a global history. In fact, there is a bias towards Scotland. That’s not a complaint, as the author is Scottish and has worked with many communities in Scotland and is of course entitled to use those experiences for the book. The therapeutic uses of sewing are explored, which was interesting to me as I never previously thought of sewing as an activity that could help heal and rehabilitate people.

I liked the first chapter best. It explored the Bayeux Tapestry (it’s not actually a tapestry). The author goes to visit it, wondering who made it. This is a central theme of the book – the makers and decorators of textiles are sometimes forgotten, not recorded, lost to history. Conversely, some makers have used the textiles to confirm their identities for posterity, to record their experiences in thread.

The writing style was a little too academic for me in places and seemed a bit abstract in between the real stories. The author appeared to be saying the same things repeatedly but in different ways. There was some very moving writing and I could appreciate her careful choice of words. However, the book turned out to be less informative than I would have liked. There are no pictures at all.

Published in 2019 by Sceptre.

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