Inspired by this post about John Craske and his delicate life and delicate embroidery in a new book by Julia Blackburn, at dovegreyreader earlier this week, I’ve begun thinking about men and embroidery. My grandfather sewed: tapestry, I think, for chair and cushion covers, but I thought, horrible child that I was, that it was an unmanly thing to do.
My grandfather suffered from depression and sewing may well have been a form of solace, even, perhaps, therapy, as it probably was for John Craske. But I’ll never know whether sewing helped my grandfather because I never had the wit or the wisdom to ask him. But I discovered, from Megan McConnell here, that during the First World War the Red Cross ran embroidery classes for men as part of their rehabilitation from wounds and shell shock. She writes:
Embroidery was taught to men who would otherwise be unable to work and many of them went on to produce skilled work both as professional embroiderers and hobbyists.
The same thing happened in World War II, although by then the need for professional hand-embroiderers had diminished but that didn’t stop embroidery becoming a hobby for many men, as it did for my grandfather.
The thing I would like to have done this month is be less blinkered (and idiotically sexist) about my grandfather’s hobby, but I wasn’t and now even the opportunity to apologise for my lack of appreciation of what he did is lost. But as is the way with lost things, they haunt us and I think this one will haunt me and find a way into my fiction. I’m already gathering threads, silks and blank canvases for a novel about mending broken things … .
And, by way of belated apology to my grandfather, here is a beautiful embroidered panel designed by one of the masters, William Morris, which I would love to have talked to him about: