Frye 2010

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"Decades of scholarly work on early modern English women have expanded our sense of their lives and of the media that they used to express those lives, media that I call women's textualities. Early modern modes of perception made women's verbal and visual textualities seem closely related, even versions of one another. As a result, this book considers women's writing alongside their paintings and embroidery. Through their multiple textualities, I argue, women from about 1540 to 1700 expressed themselves in several media that also record the ongoing redefinition of the feminine." (xv)
"This study of women named and anonymous, historical and fictional, includes but also moves beyond the court in order to demonstrate that women from a variety of backgrounds possessed related forms of verbal and visual expression that began in royal, aristocratic, and artisanal practice and quickly spread to England's other classes, who altered and developed these textualities to suit their needs." (xx)


"for many early modern English women, writing, visual dseisn, and enedlework were not considered mutually exclusive activities; rather, they were related ways to create texts." (3)
"From about 1540 to 1700, the definition of an accomplished woman changed only slightly, and, just as in the Lucar epitaph, the interaction among her abilities created an emblem of virtue that connects artistic and domestic achievement." (3)
"Such descriptions of the activities of girls and women demonstrate the extent to which they were expected to contribute toward their families' well-being by practicing everyday the goodly -- and godly -- relations among verbal and visual texts. In their world, combining visual images and writing derived from a mode of thought charged with religious conviction, which made writing itself a visual art form; portraiture as vehicle for inscriptions; painted cloths, tapestries, and needlework the primary vehicle for translating written narratives into everyday design; and the household, market, court, inn, church, and theater into the social locations where speech connected with the signifying wealth of recorded texts." (3)
"Everyday objects imbued with writing and design could, in effect, save time by breathing truths into everyday actions." (4)
"The visual and verbal combinations that privileged people commissioned as impresas and coats of arms, engraved within rings, and had embroidered on their clothing demonstrate the allure that multivalent expression had for the culture that Elyot and Puttenham were describing. combining words and images made the best possible use of time, brought great truths into human reach, recreated the senses, and stimulated the beholder to 'marvel'." (4)
"As architectural artifacts, these houses demonstrate how, b the turn of the seventeenth century, merchant- and middling-class families of varying degrees of wealth increasingly appropriated sixteenth-century forms of royal and aristocratic interior decoration." (5)
"With writing and design moving without copyright interruption from engraved print to cheap printed picture to embroidery, or from cheap picture to painted cloth and wall, narratives from religious history, as well as proverbs, emblems, and images celebrating fertile and productive country life, filled domestic interiors." (6)

Juan Vives, The Instruction of a Christian Woman, published in Latin in 1529 and dedicated to Catharine of Aragon, for the education of Mary Tudor; relates "the feminine" to needlework (6-7)

Constance Aston Fowler, commonplace book from 1630s, 1640s; religious and secular drawings, resembling embroidery patterns (8)

"These early modern women worked at the intersections of visual and verbal texts in different ways and with different audiences in mind, but they saw the needle, the pen, and the pencil or brush as interrelated tools because women for the most part perceived their products -- writing and needlework, designing and painting -- as separate but related forms of expression." (9)
"AS can be seen from these examples, learning about women's lives and women's textualities requires embracing a broader sense of text than the literary. This is why I argue that in recovering early modern women's textualities -- their many forms of expression -- we need to consider their verbal and visual texts, as well as the texts created by the intersection of the two. Adding visual texts like drawings, paintings, and needlework as well as expanding the written to include words painted and sewn expands our ability to study women of the middle classes. The rich mix of the verbal and visual in early modern life also provides access to once ubiquitous media, media to which women were valued contributors and through which omen women simultaneously asserted and explored their identities. Women's textualities record these assertions and explorations, as women worked within and altered definitions of the feminine. By bringing more women into view and into relation with one another, studying women's texts both on and off the page sheds light on historical women's lives, on the objects that they produced with pens and needles, and on how literary texts by and about women represented these textualities." (9)

"the instability of the category of women lies at the heart of this study" (11)

"Both inside and outside the home, women's verbal and visual textualities -- and the ways these textualities are represented int exts that we now consider literary -- form crucial sites for exploring the instabilities of early modern life that women variously accepted, confronted, and mediated." (12)
"Textiles and the social practices surrounding them are evidence of the materiality of women's agency. In their textile work, early modern English women represented themselves through narrative pictures and patterns, locations of their expressed identity." (14)
"How is it possible to connect with early modern English women via the objects of their everyday lives? What happens if we study objects not only when they appear within discourse as metaphors but also as descriptions of experience that gave rise to the metaphors in the first place?" (28)
"Studying the material object offers ways in which to perceive connectiosn between ourselves and the people of the past, as well as to access the contexts that produced the object, contexts that the object continues to recall." (29)

1. Political Designs: Elizabeth Tudor, Mary Stuart, and Bess of Hardwick

Elizabeth, gift books with embroidered covers for Henry VIII and Katharine Parr

"These volumes, although in some respects the work of the eleven- and twelve-year-old girl that she was, serve notice that she was capable of combining strategies that moved beyond accepted gender roles into the world of decision makers, whose minds were trained in humanist and religious discourse." (41)
"Elizabeth used her volumes to signify the humanist education of a prince within an explicitly feminine object valued for generations." (41)

Mary Queen of Scots, shown in white mourning in many circulated portraits; "The many versions of this portrait, whether in pencil, paint, or words, function as forms of inalienable possession constructed as treasured statements of Mary's past, present, and future selves." (49)

"Mary's needlework became a principle means through which she asserted her royal identities and her position as heir-in-waiting to the English throne." (51)
"Women like Elizabeth Tudor, Mary Stuart, and Bess of Hardwick expected to orchestrate the intersecting codes through which they articulated their evolving identities, even if they risked being misread." (55)

devices -- "powerful signifiers that could be used for good or ill", mix of visual/verbal

"Bess of Hardwick's needlework must be read in the context of her decades spent remodeling and building the country houses as Chatsworth, Hardwick Hall, and New Hardwick Hall, as she balanced princely display with the financial management that would underwrite both the Cavendish and Talbot dynasties." (57)
"Elizabeth and Mary found themselves in the middle of national and international disputes about the relations among their female bodies, their divine connections, and their ability to govern. AS a wealthy countess rather than a queen, Bess used her Chatsworth workshop to assert her identities as the powerful, chaste, and resourceful wife to her several husbands, as well as the founder of dynasties. Bess represents these identities in her Notable Women series." (61)

Diana and Actaeon panel -- reworks Virgil Solis illustration; "by emphasizing Diana's feminine strength rather than her shame, the needlework panel asserts the perspective of an active, powerful woman over the confident pleasures of the male voyeur." (65)

"Overall, the intergration of architectural and interior design at Bess's New Hardwick Hall united the gaze of the powerful females pictured in her textile productions with the pleasures of designing a house for her combined political and personal needs." (66)

Bess "assembled in this room [Withdrawing Chambers] a theater of identity populated with notable female figures that included other portraits both painted and embroidered" (71)

2. Miniatures and Manuscripts: Levina Teerlinc, Jane Segar, and Esther Inglis as Professional Artisans

"Although we do not know a great deal about these women, we do know that they produced miniatures and manuscripts for very different reasons and that all three produced exquisite objects that have survived the centuries. These objects make visible the agency of their producers, who knowingly or unknowingly followed a female tradition of artful book production that had begun in the Early Christian era, when nuns trained in both the writing and illumination of manuscripts." (76)
"At a time when ornate textiles formed much of the king's wealth, embroidered work in all its variety was considered a serious art form. It was also the one art form that many women at court produced." (77)

Teerlinc, painting of Elizabeth and 'the knights of the order' -- "makes visible the itnersectio of two traditions, that of the increasingly secular miniaturist and illuminated manuscript, and the heraldic tradition of illumination that memorialized dynastic connection" (82-83)

Teerlinc probably performed a range of activities; portraits, illumination, heraldic and legal documents, designs for seals, coins, needlework (83)

"Although she may well have been the first miniaturist in England to paint full-length portraits in her miniatures, based on current attributions Teerlinc's painting failed to represent a high point int he long history of the Ghent-Bruges school. Instead, the value of her illuminated manuscripts and designs lay in their adaptability to Tudor politics." -- adapted religious iconography for female rulers, Mary I and Elizabeth I (86)

Segar book, "a carefully made object that represents its producer as an agent simultaneously interested in attracting Elizabeth as a patron and in producing a work strongly marked by personal choices" (88)

in early modern facing-page translations, English goes on left; Segar puts Bright's characters on the right, showing her English poem is a translation of the original prophecy, written in gold; "In this way, Segar manipulates the conventions of facing-page translation to make her English verses appear to be translations from the golden symbols of some sibylline code." (93)

Esther Inglis

"Esther Inglis's books frequently consist of a central pious text placed within covers of her own making and introduced by a variety of materials, usually including a title page, self-portrait, and dedication to someone of rank. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries in England, such texts continued to circulate in manuscript preciely because print became the more available technology. So valued were elegant manuscript books at the turn of the seventeenth century that scribes were someties employed to copy printed books to re-create the look of less widely marketed volumes." (103)
"The most significant aspect of her books lies in the relations between their existence as handmade objects and the ways that she uses them to represent herself as a woman author. Every material feature of Inglis's books asserts her project, to assemble and publish exquisite textual objects whose value resides in the tension between manuscript and print cultures, the hand andthe machine. In creating a place for herself between these two cultures, Inglis connected the writing woman to desired political and social affiliations at the same time that her books materialized an authorial self." (103)

Inglis presents her authority not through roles of wife/mother but "as the prototype of the career woman who has assumed the usually male role of scrivener as well as the function of the male activities of publishing a text"; "only a limited sense of community with other women writers" (106)

  • "Rather than seek authorization from her husband, from her position as wife and mother, or from a sense of intellectual community with other educated women -- all strategies used by women authors, especially the few who published their work at the turn of the seventeenth century -- Inglis martial sher Huguenot religious principles to authorize herself as a woman who steps over 'the bounds of modestie, where with our Sexie is commanlie adorned.' These principles inform her choice of moralistic or religious texts -- the Psalms a popular choice among women writers like Ane Locke and Mary Sidney Herbert; selections from Ecclesiastes or the proverbs of Solomon; and the emblems of Gorgette de Montenay." (107)
"Inglis needed divine authorization of her female authorship not only because she had crossed traditional gender lines to act as a career scrivener and artist but also because her calligraphic speciality became the imitation of print, as her tiny books evolved into downscaled versions of the larger printed books produced by men working in collaboration with one another." (110)

page coded as a masculine space; "In copying and miniaturizing typefaces, often in a hand whose letters are less than a millimeter high, Inglis adapted and used these forms of male textual reproduction." (110)

"Inglis's willingness to take on all aspects of the production of books for presentation -- which may have sprung simply from her need to economize -- amounts to a profound disruption of the usual male-controlled forms of textual production at the turn of the seventeenth century. Coterie manuscripts for the most part circulated in holographic form, often copied by a scrivener. Presentation books designed to elicit patronage were frequently the result of workshops, in which the labor was divided along the model of medieval book production, with calligraphers, limners, binders, and cover specialists. Similarly print culture divided the labor of textual production among writers, compositors, printers, engravers, and binder-booksellers. Although there were women printers and women from printing families, most women were widely separated from the production of books precisely because women were allowed -- and in elite homes, encouraged -- to study calligraphy or the writing of 'hands.' But 'copying' as Inglis 'copied' print by shrinking it, suggests the extent to which women's copying of texts and textiles mapped out new areas of agency within controlled norms. Inglis and other women calligraphers, embroiderers, translators, and poets who copied the work of males and also of one another, worked outward from approved domestic arts to the nonthreatening copying of others' texts through translation and calligraphy, seeking wider recognition for their work." (110)
"Inglis took control of masculinized type and feminized portraits that feature herself holding a pen and writing as well as in her emblems of the pen. Through these drawings she claims both letter and page as a different kind of feminine territory -- not weighted upon or pressed, but moral, readable, and bold." (111)

title pge, half-length portrait of English before an open book, with a pen; "Inglis's juxtaposition of a title page in ink made to replicate a printed title page followed by an 'engraved' self-portrait, together with various commendatory verses of the author, reveals her using the visual effects of print culture to announce her own form of authorship." (112)

wants her books to be placed among miniatures, "those other small, richly produced objects so valued at courts." -- look like printed books, wants them classed with miniatures (112-113)

"Inglis's assemblies of written and visual texts present themselves as miniatures meant to be treasured as jewels, books with an elaborate form that qualifies them for patronage by resembling courtly gifts. On the outside, they glitter with small seed pearls and embroidery in gold, silver, and colored silk; on the inside, they are miniature inked drawings resembling blackwork embroidery patterns, colored drawings of flowers or limnings, and Inglis's perfectly even and varied calligraphic texts. AS a publishing author in her own particular sense, Inglis capitalized on the tension between manuscript and print conventions, calling attention to the small spaces occupied by her miniature versions of the book." (114)

isolated from other women writers, but part of a tradition including Christine de Pizan, Elizabeth Tudor, Mary Stuart, Levina Teerlinc, and Jane Segar (115)

3. Sewing Connections: Narratives of Agency in Women's Domestic Needlework

"women in the household continuously shaped their environment by creating objects that expressed their always-evolving identities" (116)

17c, rapid rise in sales of books, ballads and printed pictures "of the sort that draftsmen could transfer to cloth for domestic needleworkers. Women of the middling classes began seizing the opportunity to create objects emulating the professional needlework, lace, and carpets of the more privileged, adding to their family's household store while exploring the same narratives that titled women like Mary Stuart and Bess of Hardwick had worked in the second half of the sixteenth century." (117)

band samplers: "most familiar, formalized genre of needlework", dating from 1630s to 1640s, "the same period when the publication of prints, pamphlets, and books was rapidly increasing." (117)

"the word sampler was used during the early modern period to refer to any needleowkred picture, usually with the understanding that its embroiderer had chosen its subject for a reason" (118)

Jasper Mayne, The City Match (1639) -- "lightly mocks a particular genre of the pictorial sampler, the biblical picture adapted from print sources."

  • "This kind of sampler became popular in the 1630s and remained so until about 1690." (120)
  • Aurelia calls them "Hebrew samplers" in the play
  • "In the 16c, royal and aristocratic women had worked pictures with Old Testament themes, such as the Sacrifice of Isaac long cushion at New Hardwick Hall. What was new was the number of girls and women of the middling classes who adapted engravings and woodcuts for their needlework. Seventeenth0century needleworkers embroidered their Hebrew samplers for some of the same purposes that courtiers and professional embroiderers had, to make bed testers and cushion covers. But in large numbers they further adapted biblical subjects for book covers, small cabinets, and mirror frames for middling-class households. These Hebrew samplers offer the opportunity to consider how early modern women may have experienced the narratives of female agency available to them in the scriptures. By embroidering Jewish female figures whom they simultaneously considered to be historical women and representatives of themselves, early modern needleworkers found reservoirs of significance within even brief biblical passages that they had read or heard read repeatedly, that were enlarged on in sermons, and that they discussed among themselves." (120-121)
"17c needleworkers brought Jewish historical women into their own time and place through the immediacy of embroidered pictures" (121)

Gerard de Jode was popular for designs, "but the basic composition of the story was only the beginning" -- often changed hairstyles or gave the figures contemporary clothes (121)

samplers -- "these ubiquitous objects were once the principle means to remember not only the most practical elements of embroidery but also the tiny stitches and larger patterns that located girls and women within extendd networks of affiliation. Becuse of their value to successive generations, spot samplers were often included in wills." (123)

Hoby mentions needlework in her diary (123)

spot samplers made difficult stitches possible; they "manifest lifetimes of connection among women" (126)

"Household needlework in the early modern period was not a mark of leisure but was accepted proof that hands were not up to mischief" (128)

by mid to late 17c, "an influx of relatively cheap luxury textiles from Europe, India, and the Middle East resulted in a gradual decrease in the demand for domestic needlework" (128)

more than 150 books of needlework patterns published between 1620s and end of the century (see Arthur 1995, 61)

Taylor's The Needles Excellency "was published to take economic advantage of the fact that although women had no choice but to sew, within that cultural imperative, they could make many choices." (129)

"In making available a variety of needlework patterns, books like Taylor's supplemented the spot and band sampler while making possible another form of intergenerational alliance among women through the ownership of pattern books. Like pulished and manuscript receipt books, pattern books acquired by one generation were used two and even three generations later. This intragenerational ownership of books explains why so few printed pattern books are extant and why those that remain are heavily cut up., like those in Britain's National Art Library." (130)
"In the 1630s and 1640s, the expectation of the gentry and middling classes that their girls learn the advanced skills necessary to produce embroidered objects and clothing gave rise to a new genre of needlework, the band sampler. The band sampler formalized the process of learning basic and more complex stitches and a girl's first patterns. From the first, it offered the possibility of innovation even as girls learned the rudiments of the skilled needlework necessary to help clothe themselves and their homes. The band smapler is organized in rows but with no requirement for their order, content, or number. What each girl included in her four to twenty rows varies, but usually she included an alphabet or saying, a variety of stitches and patterns in colored threads and white work, and a larger statement in the form of a picture or longer verse. As a result, the band sampler not only registers the basic elements of female deportment but also, like the dominant culture itself, allows the possibility of individual variation." (131)
"The band sampler articulated identity through the choices that girls and their teachers made among visual patterns and written texts. Although at first band samplers may look alike, the undreds of surviving samplers are actually built on the importance of varying the sampler's requirements. As in highly structured verbal forms like the sonnet, the formalism of the band sampler invited divergence." (131)
"The rise of the band sampler and needlework picture in the 1630s and 1640s coincides with a sharp rise in print production and sales, as well as with the increased publication of works written by women." (135)
"the domestic embroiderer who lived in a city could go to a print shop, leaf through books and loose engravings, choose the print or prints she wanted to work, and have a pattern transferred to cloth then and there" (136)

many embroideries of Esther, Deborah, Jael, and Judith -- share a "relation through divinely authorized speech, including their prayers and psalms" (152)

4. Staging Women's Relations to Textiles in Shakespeare's Othello and Cymbeline

"In embroidery, English women represented themselves through patterns and pictures that can be read as locations of identities lived within a network of household and community connection." (162)

Othello and Cymbeline "violently conflate women with cloth until they are perceived as cloth -- cloth that is simultaneously metaphor and stage property, a representation and material embodiment of the female characters' suspected infidelity. This symbolic reconfiguration of women's everyday agency and identity enables a radical reduction of representation that in turn allows the plays to gain symbolic access to their staged bodies." (168)

"In Othello and Cymbeline women tend to become the cloth rather than its producers and consumers." (168)

textiles included in "multimedia emblems of women's identities" -- Penelope; ideal wife of Proverbs 31 (180)

aristocratic rooms display handiwork of occupants, showing their chastity; "architectural elements are so densely structured that they look like embroidery"; choice of subjects amplifies identity of owner through history of dominant women (180)

"In the sixteenth century, valuable textiles were reused, cut down, and reshaped in a process called 'translating'. Bess of Hardwick cut up medieval priests' copes acquired by her husband, William St. Loe, during the dissolution of the monasteries, in order to create her hangings of worthy ancient women." (185)

5. Mary Sidney Wroth: Clothing Romance