Weaving the Word: The Metaphorics of Weaving and Female Textual Production

Weaving the Word: The Metaphorics of Weaving and Female Textual Production

Weaving the Word: The Metaphorics of Weaving and Female Textual Production

Weaving the Word: The Metaphorics of Weaving and Female Textual Production


In Weaving the Word Kathryn Sullivan Kruger examines the link between written texts and woven textiles. Encoded by pattern, symbol, and dye, textiles offer an important form of communication heretofore ignored. Kruger asserts that before written texts could record and preserve the stories of a culture, cloth was one of the primary modes for transmitting social beliefs and messages. Moreover, when reestablishing the connection between the written text and the textile, Kruger concedes that a significant relationship exists between women, who wove textiles, and textual production. By recuperating a textile history and including it in our awareness of literary history, we will recover a large community of female authorship and perspective. Through an analysis of specific weaving stories, the difference between a text and a textile becomes blurred. Such stories portray women weavers transforming their domestic activity of making textiles into one of making texts by inscribing their cloth with both personal and political messages. Kruger draws from various disciplines to show how textiles constitute another form of literature. Her engaging and provocative inquire raises important issues for any reader interested in literature, communication, and the power of the word.


The contemporary practice in many fields of cultural studies of
considering only the most recent historical periods threatens to
trap us in an extraordinarily narrow definition of culture…. The
study of ancient history allows us to see the particularity of our
own culture, to be critical of its categories, to imagine otherwise.

—Page duBois, Sowing the Body

TODAY, WE ARE FAR REMOVED FROM THE WORLD OF TEXTILE PRODUCtion. Because most of us purchase clothing from catalogs or stores, we disregard the enormous labor involved in making cloth, forgetting this singular fact: producing textiles occupied a major part of our ancestors’ lives. Unlike the stories wherein a fairytale character like Penelope or the Lady of Shalott weave (literally) to wile away the time, weaving was a harsh reality. Producing cloth often supplemented other incomes and was intensely laborious.

Because cloth took so long to produce, it became very valuable in the ancient worlds. Whether decorating floors, walls or bodies, cloth was woven with attention to intention, communicating not only cultural meaning, but also bestowing (or preserving) power. Whether the heavily brocaded robe of a bishop, the colorfully woven jacket of a Peruvian merchant, or a translucent veil hung before a face—these textiles, like a sheet of paper, convey meaning, their language consisting of a grammar of fiber, design and dye.

The relationship between texts and textiles is, historically, a significant one. Anthropologists have long been intrigued at the various ways in which cloth embodies the unique ideas of a culture. They can trace the history of a culture through the record of its textiles, “reading” cloth like a written text. Indeed, this cloth transmits information about the society which created it in a manner not dissimilar from a written language, except in this case the semiotics of the cloth depend on choice of fiber, pattern, dye, as well as its method of production.

As artifacts, textiles are vulnerable, and unlike pottery disintegrate . . .

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