“Would you be interested in doing a book review?” Sylvia said. “It will be fun” she said. Well ok – maybe she didn’t say that bit! I jumped at the chance. I have always been an avid reader of both fiction and non fiction (usually historical) so how difficult could it be?
The book is “Threads of Life: A History of the World Through the Eye of a Needle” by Clare Hunter.
The book arrived with associated publicity blurb. From that blurb I inferred that I was reading a straight history book. I was therefore a little confused by the almost flowery language describing the journey to visit the first item (the Bayeux Tapestry) – so much so that I almost gave up. I am glad I didn’t give up, but it did take me a while to get used to the author’s style. It is not a bad style – just a bit unusual in my opinion.
The book does not take a timeline view of the needlework and textiles being described. Instead, it reviews the items, grouping them by their context in the opinion of the author – Power, Captivity, Community, Identity, Protest etc, giving historical context along the way – lots of historical context. Occasionally, it can appear that the book has a split personality – it cannot work out whether it wants to be a history book or a textile book. It covers all sorts of needlework, with lots of embroidery for example, but includes things like patchwork and knitting as well.
The textiles examined are also varied in their origins of place and station – textiles from across the world or inspired by different countries, and textiles originating from royalty to the most humble. This does mean that items are included that it would be difficult to find information on elsewhere, which makes them more interesting. They also come from the happiest and, more often, the most difficult of circumstances.
A recurring theme – but certainly not the only one – which surrounds the needlework in this book is the description of its use as a solace or occupation for a disturbed mind. Maybe I picked this up because I have used needlework in this way myself – because of the concentration required, you cannot be thinking about the outside world that is bothering you while you are working.
Negatives about this book – I found two, but neither should be show stoppers for the reader:
a) There are no pictures. I know that sounds childish, but I would have liked to see some of the stuff being described.
b) There is a bibliography, organised by chapter, but I would have liked some footnotes to be able to identify where quotes come from. Maybe that preference comes from my usual factual historical reading.
Positives: as soon as I got used to the author’s style, I found the book interesting, particularly in the chapter groupings of the textiles – it brings a different slant to the subject.
I will also note that although it doesn’t look like a very big book, the printing is relatively small (or maybe I am just used to my e-reader) making it quite a long read.
Overall, I believe it is a book worth reading – those who would be drawn to this book are often serial crafters anyway, so the mix of textiles should appeal.