needle carrier

alias grace meta: sewing & textiles motif

Grace’s hands are never idle.

She says it herself, that “idle hands do the devil’s work” (perhaps said cheekily, or facetiously, or with earnest piousness–we never really know with her.)

As Grace weaves her tale for Dr. Jordan, there’s a corollary of Grace sewing and weaving a quilt. She is literally and figuratively “spinning a yarn.” The quilts themselves are narratives, warnings, and signs. And they are women’s work too. The making of the quilt and the unwinding of the story are both Grace’s to control and design. The power lies in her hands and voice. 

I loved all the close-ups of Grace’s hands tracing the needle and thread through the fabric as she spoke to Dr. Jordan. It complemented the building of her story, but also added an aspect of danger to it. I always braced myself for close-up of Grace pricking her finger, of blood bleeding into the white textiles. But it never happens, that possibility only lingers. 

The motif carries through in her relationship with Mary Whitney. Grace gifts her a needle carrier for Christmas. Mary gives her a red petticoat when she menstruates for the first time. 

And at the closing–it is three textiles from women’s lives that are sewn into her quilt of the tree of paradise: Nancy Montgomery’s pink dress, Grace’s jail nightgown, and Mary’s red petticoat. 

Textiles are important in these women’s lives, as they signify age, class, and transition. They are markers of identity–both trying to claim them, embody them, and hide from them. 

Interestingly, clothing (and I would also say identity) between women in the narrative is fluid. Grace speaks about frequently borrowing Mary’s clothing (”so why not her name, too?”), she runs away in Nancy’s pink dress, and she even wears it to court. Mary gives Grace her mother’s handkerchief. Perhaps Mary even inhabits Grace’s body, as easily as one might slip into another’s dress. The blurring of the characters speaks to women’s shared experience.  What the three women want, what they desire, what they strive for, and the deep anger they all carry–it can be seen as common and shared. 

Also, a quick shout-out to Grace talking about the restrictions of wearing a bonnet, and asking Dr. Jordan whether he’s ever worn one. Dr. Jordan returns the statement with a quirk of a smile. Of course he hasn’t, he’s a man. Experience of clothing is gendered and rigid. No man wears a hat like horse blinders.

(I may write something on Jeremiah later and his profession in peddling women’s goods and textiles, making him a character that is more “fluid” or less rigidly constrained by gender roles. Stay tuned.)

On another note: traditionally, sewing and textiles have always been considered women’s work. And when you consider it as an artistic medium, I would dare say that even in contemporary and postmodern art, male artists rarely use it as a medium of self-expression. It is still a gendered art form.  

As usual, please let me know your thoughts! Do you agree, disagree? Is there another moment where textiles were used? Let me know!