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Threads of Life by Clare Hunter


Threads of Life is a history of sewing and embroidery, told through the stories of the men and women, over centuries and across continents, who have used the language of thread to make their voices heard.


A non-fiction book exploring the social, emotional and political significance of sewing might not seem like the most exciting book to some. But Clare Hunter has crafted an evocative and moving book about the need we all have to tell our story.


From the political storytelling of the Bayeux tapestry’s anonymous embroiders, to Mary Queen of Scots’ treasonous stitching, to the sewing of First World War soldiers suffering from PTSD, Hunter offers a fascinating insight into the very threads that wove our history.


The book is divided into chapters – each exploring a purpose of sewing. She explores tapestries that convey identity, protest, memory, loss, connection and politics. Her history spans the world. It stretches from medieval France to contemporary Mexico, from a POW camp in Singapore to a family attic in Scotland. The impact of missionaries on our Pacific Island neighbours and tivaevae is also considered. It was there where Hunter left me to ponder our own country’s textile history.


As a textile artist herself, Hunter magically weaves in her own story making the book an eloquent blend of history and memoir. She can write – the book is full of wonderful imagery, deep insight, and to use her own words, a book that “holds (her) spirit fast within its threads”. Threads of Life is her first book and it is a surprising debut. I’d love to see Hunter turn her hand at fiction at some point.


A helpful bibliography is also included within the pages. At times I wished for photographs to really visualise the textile art piece that Hunter was discussing. However, a quick Google would often bring up the piece.


Threads of Life is more than just a book about textile arts. My fear is that those who do not work with fabric and thread will simply skip this book on the shelf. Even if you have never picked up a needle in your life, this book should be on your to-read pile. It offers fascinating insights to some of the biggest events of our history, all seen through the eye of a needle.


Reviewer: Rebekah Fraser

Hachette, RRP $37.99



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