A guest post by Andrea Liu
By peeling away the complex layers of the needle and the cloth, we expose their shared power of speaking truth. Once feminine stereotypes attached to the needle are overlooked, we come to realise that there is nothing naïve in a woman’s use of embroidery. When the needle is wielded as the pen, thread and cloth combined transform into a language that surpasses words. Barriers of language and culture are easily crossed and allow for stories to be shared and touched on a global scale. The familiarity of cloth is not a weakness. Acting as a Trojan-horse-type façade, cloth allows us to approach without reservation and opinion. Our intimacy with cloth and our tactile sensitivities to it are why we feel the emotional connection and intensity of stories, memories and dreams stitched into being. With examples of Liu Zhuanghuan’s coat, arpilleras and conflict textiles, we see how the seemingly unassuming thread and cloth become “real Ambassadors”, “the voice of the voiceless,” that speak against all levels of injustice (Bacic, 2015: 1). We are reminded that the needle mends. The needle heals. Yet, for the healing and forgiving power of the needle to activate, damage and destruction must be present. Our environment dictates to what extent joy and pain are experienced. Hence, our body with all its heightened sensitivities is the site of where we internalise these emotional experiences. The body in pain is pivotal in this process of unlocking the needle’s magical power. Even more so, it is the wellbeing of our children that pushes a mother’s (or father’s) hand to will that power to life.
I am reminded of the last scene of the film Wind River (2017), which I believe sits well with exemplifying how the power of the needle is needed to be spread beyond South America and Northern Ireland, into other communities in pain. Set within an Indian Reservation in Wyoming, this film is inspired by thousands of actual stories involving sexual assault of women on reservations that not many in America or in the world are aware of. We see a middle-aged veteran tracker having a cowboy-like appearance walk towards a Native American man, similar in age, who is sitting on the snow-dusted ground of in his home garden facing pastures and forests. We notice empty children swings that eerily sway ever so slightly by the breeze. The tracker sits next to him, and we notice along with the tracker that the Native American has his face painted in blue and white.
Tracker: What’s with the paint?
Native American: It’s my death face.
Tracker: You alright? …How would you know what that is?
Native American: I don’t, I just made it up, ‘cause no one left to teach here…
(Wind River, 2017)
The Native American man is grieving for the rape and death of his teenage daughter. Yet the simple exchange of dialogue reveals much more. In just a few words, he reveals the pain of a community who has been generationally stripped of culture, history, identity and a voice to speak their truth. As the camera pans out for us to see the backs of two men sitting together in silence and solidarity, a title card appears over them:
“While missing person statistics are compiled for every other demographic, none exist for Native American women. No one knows how many are missing.” (Wind River, 2017)
It is a poignant scene that reveals the depth of hurt and injustices faced by the Native Americans in present-day America. Why have we not heard their stories? Why have we not paid attention to their voices? I propose that here is where the power of the needle and cloth can flourish. Not everyone has the capacity to write, but everyone can stitch. In present day, there are still women, and also men, who can benefit from learning to stitch their personal stories onto cloth. There are communities whose bodies are full of historical scars and their pains have incapacitated their voices from screaming, Hear my voice. Through understanding how and why stitch and cloth can move from the private space into public protest, the knowledge of how to use the needle as the pen is the greatest inheritance of mankind.
About Andrea Liu
Born in Orange County, California, Andrea Liu is a writer, researcher and designer. Graduating from Central St. Martin’s in 2018, she specialises in woven textile design and has honed her skills in material research and off-loom woven construction. She endeavours on making sustainable designs, approaching every project with the goal of turning waste into material of value. Prior to Central St. Martin’s, she worked as an Executive Assistant and ghostwriter for a film producer. As well, she attained a B.A. (Hons.) in Chinese Studies from The University of Manchester in 2011 and a M.phil in Creative Writing from Trinity College Dublin in 2012. Read more about Andrea and her projects on her website.
About “The Needle as the Pen” post series
The series of “The Needle as the Pen” blog post is based on Andrea Liu’s unpublished B.A. dissertation in Textile Design at Central Saint Martins, University of the Arts London, in which she investigated–under the same title–why and how needlework moved from the private sphere to public sphere in context of activism. With Liu Zhuanghuan’s coat in mind, I examine why and how the needle, the cloth and the body actively work together. Blog posts will discuss the needle, the cloth and the body, and explore conflict, resolution and activism experienced by the needle, the cloth and the body when the private and public spheres collide and crash into one another. Examples of arpillerasfrom South America and Conflict textiles from Northern Ireland will be used to illustrate how textiles speak truths about the women’s experiences in pain and healing.
Bacic, R. (2015). Arpillera Journeys. Ulster University: CAIN. Available at: http://www.cain.ulst.ac.uk/quilts/exhibition/2015-03-06_Derry/2015-03-06_Derry_Brochure.pdf [Accessed 17 Aug. 2017].
Wind River. (2017). [film] Directed by J. Sheridan. Hollywood: Acacia Entertainment, Savvy Media Holdings, Thunder Road Pictures, Film 44.