Fafnir Adamites "Situational Awareness" (detail)

SDA Book Club: “Unraveling Women’s Art” reviewed by Faith Hagenhofer

Unraveling Women’s Art: Creators, Rebels & Innovators in Textile Arts by P.L. Henderson

The big gem of this book is that P. L. Henderson has uncovered so many women that work in textiles, that one could be busy for a very long time researching their work and finding images. Within the broadly titled chapters of Unraveling Women’s Art there are two parts; first, each chapter addresses a large topic such as “Textile Arts in Indigenous Cultures,” “Textile Art & Identity,” “Nature and Textile Arts” and more, as it relates to textile practices, followed by two to four interviews with textile artists. This organizing system allows a reader to choose whether their reading focus is solely on artists’ own reflections on their work and practices, or  to read Henderson’s brief topical essays. While one might choose to read some and not others of the chapters, based on interest,  the writing sometimes does circle back to a previous chapter’s discussion. A few of the chapters could easily have been combined as well, as there is ample crossover.

That said, Henderson’s attempt at presenting a comprehensive work ends up feeling more like a survey, a breathless fast ride, with dizzying shifts in history, location, textile methods and makers’ intentions. It takes on too much, which indicates how little is being written on the breadth of roles women have played in the history of the world’s wonderful and often exquisite textiles, that are part and parcel of every facet of life. The subjects of each of the chapters could easily fill an entire book, the book an introduction for an encyclopedia. At 249 pages, the telling of this story is impossible.  Unfortunately, there are many mentions of artists’ works with no accompanying images. Additionally, there is a lengthy bibliography, but no citations. In response to the question “What role and significance do textiles have to your work?” One of Henderson’s interviewees, Ana Teresa Barboza says “The textile world is full of stories. Textiles tell you about tradition, materials, plants, places, and rituals.” Clearly even these are tips of icebergs. I’m excited to go back through Unraveling and look up the many unfamiliar women who were mentioned throughout.

–Faith Hagenhofer

  • Publisher: Supernova Books (buy it here)
  • Date: March 2022
  • ISBN:9781913641153

If you’ve read this book, leave a comment and let us know what you think!

Do you have a recommendation for a recent fiber-related book you think should be included in SDA’s Book Club? Email SDA’s Managing Editor, Lauren Sinner, to let her know!

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