Female Artisans: Embroidery as Emancipation

June 21, 2023 2023-06-21 9:06
Female artisan

Female Artisans: Embroidery as Emancipation

Female Artisans: Embroidery as Emancipation

The Role of Women in Sicilian Embroidery

Embroidery is an art form that has been practised for centuries, serving as a medium for creativity, self-expression and cultural preservation. Sicilian embroidery holds a special place in the realm of textile arts, showcasing the rich heritage of the Sicilian people. The intricate and vibrant designs of Sicilian embroidery reflect the unique history and culture of the region, a tradition protected by female artisans.

Sicily is a melting pot of different civilisations and cultures. Each of its many influences have contributed to the diverse range of motifs and styles found in Sicilian embroidery. Centuries ago, men embroidered as well as women. Soon women became the primary custodians of this art form and have been responsible for passing down these techniques from one generation to the next, ensuring the continuity of their cultural heritage.

One of the key factors that have shaped the role of women in Sicilian embroidery is the strong influence of the Catholic Church. Embroidery has long been associated with religious symbolism and ecclesiastical garments. Women often created elaborate embroideries for the vestments and sacred objects used in religious ceremonies. This association with the Church provided women with a platform to showcase their skills and gain recognition for their craftsmanship.

Moreover, embroidery also played a significant role in the lives of Sicilian women within their domestic sphere. Embroidered linens, such as tablecloths, bedspreads, and curtains, were an integral part of their household and were often displayed during special occasions and religious festivals. Moreover, the role of embroidery within dowries was particularly significant; it was an expression of wealth and devotion. Women would spend countless hours meticulously crafting these pieces, pouring their creativity and love into every stitch. These embroidered textiles not only served as functional items but also as a source of pride and a way for women to exhibit their artistic abilities.

Female Artisans Passed Knowledge Down Through Generations

The art of Sicilian embroidery is typically passed down from mothers to daughters, creating a lineage of skill and knowledge within families. In this way, embroidery becomes a tradition and a form of storytelling, connecting generations and preserving cultural heritage. The techniques and patterns used in Sicilian embroidery were often closely guarded family secrets, with women sharing their knowledge only with their daughters or other female relatives. This exclusivity not only adds to the mystique of Sicilian embroidery but also strengthens the bonds between women and reinforces their role as the bearers of tradition.

The artisanal demography shifted from both men and women to just women as men moved into artisanal crafts with typically harder materials like wood and leather. Also women were rarely able to get the recognition they deserved: laws prohibited them from selling their products themselves, so they were often forced to work in the shadow economy.

An embroiderer at work, within a larger group of female artisans

So skilled were female artisans that they were often earning enough to sustain their families, but they couldn’t earn recognition for their work. As such, embroidery, especially as it has moved out of the shadow economy, is more than just an artisanal craft. It represents the emancipation of women: they are free to work openly, they can gain recognition for their work. This hasn’t always been the case and it isn’t always the case now: a lot of women still resort to moonlighting to make ends meet as they often aren’t valued enough for their incredible work.

Female Artisans Offer Economic Revival

Craftswomanship now presents a significant opportunity for Italy’s economic revival, more than ever before. With a considerable number of female artisans, these entrepreneurial women play a vital role in driving the economy and combating the alarming rates of female unemployment, especially in Southern Italy, where it stands at a record high of nearly 70%. The lack of infrastructure and insufficient academic and professional training are major factors contributing to this issue.

At MANIMA, we recognise this potential and are actively empowering Italy’s female artisans. We believe in the Regenerative Luxury business model: allowing luxury to flourish while creating a positive balance between business and community value. By elevating hand embroidery from the informal economy and highlighting its tremendous value, we ensure that our artisans have a stable income and access to social benefits. Our groundbreaking Digital Atelier, a unique technological ecosystem, places the essence of craftswomanship at the heart of our mission. We are building a community of trust between ourselves, our team and the wider community.

The role of women in Sicilian embroidery is deeply intertwined with the cultural fabric of the region. Their skill, creativity, and dedication have ensured the preservation of this traditional art form and have contributed to its evolution over time. We want to preserve this tradition at MANIMA. Through their intricate stitches, women have woven together stories of their heritage, their beliefs, and their aspirations. Sicilian embroidery stands not only as a testament to women’s artistic prowess but also as a symbol of their resilience, empowerment, and the enduring strength of their cultural identity.

by Will Scott

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