Fighting for our Rights with Needle and Thread

Fighting for our Rights with Needle and Thread

Today's guest blog has been written by Ashleigh Cartwright, one of our wonderful Customer Happiness team. Ash also runs @_ashstitch, where she embroiders wonderful feminist slogans onto organic tees and she recently ran two embroidery workshops (due to such high demand!) at our Brighton Store!

Ash looks at the ways in which the previously overlooked and undervalued practices of needlework and sewing are now being used to empower, pioneer, spread ideas and make social change - including our wonderful teams of female tailors and machinists in India and Barnsley.

Along with cooking, cleaning and looking after children, sewing is, or was, seen as a domestic value most often associated with women. Women weren't able to own their own houses until a law passed in 1870. They lived under a man's roof. It is often thought that women had to sew to prove their femininity and their capability to be a wife and a mother. Perhaps this is why the craft is so widely known for being "women's work"?

For centuries, and across so many cultures, one of the only trades many women had as an option was sewing. They had a lack of education and didn't have the resources to learn other skills. The social idea was women as mothers and housewives and not much more - this meant that opportunities were increasingly limited.

It was often seen as a mere hobby, but even if it meant they could earn a living, it was a pitiful wage and the environment in which they worked would be banned in today's society. Bad backs, poor eyesight and finger pricks were just a few of the job’s perks.

As time went on and more fights were fought, women slowly started to earn more rights. They were exposed to better education systems, mortgages of their very own and higher paid jobs. An amazing, historical move for women. They could finally make money and be independent. They finally had a choice!

The domestic idyllic set up was now losing its dreamy picture. Many people realised that women weren't just there to cook, clean and to sew. They have brains (who knew?!) and were (and are) more than capable of having the same job as a man.

This in turn meant that over the years, the amount of people who could sew decreased. Schools eventually started to drop home economic classes and so for years, people went without knowing the skill unless they made the effort to learn themselves - it wasn't deemed as essential anymore.

However, it looks as though people are picking it up again - after years of neglect, it’s now growing in popularity. Only this time, it's not forced labour, it's a choice and the money is seemingly better. It's creative, therapeutic and even better - fashionable, empowering, and fun!

All over Instagram and Pinterest, sewing skills and embroidery patterns are shown off. It's hip to fix your jeans. It's cool to embroider your own t-shirt (if I do say so myself). It's liberating now as it's a choice that we have - nobody is forcing anybody to sew, people are choosing to. And that's what makes it so much fun!

Embroidery was once seen as a necessary skill in a woman's life. They had to be able to sew or like, were they even a woman?! Now it's seen as a form of art. It's often used to spread the message of feminism, too! We literally fight for our rights whilst sewing - it's so ironic that it is - in fact - genius.

Thousands of accounts such as @kingsophiesworld, @thefemmebohemian and @sassandstitchembroidery inspire people with their stitched feminist quotes, embroidered naked ladies and don't hesitate to call people out.

Not only are these people spreading inspiration and positive energy in to the world, they are also earning money from it. Where women earning money from sewing used to be from forced labour, it's now a respected, artistic and chosen career path for all genders.

From DIY kits to home decoration and clothing, embroidery and textile work has also found its way into more high art spaces. Charlotte Edey is an artist & illustrator who working across print, tapestry, textile and embroidery, exploring mysticism and femininity, with a focus on the experience of womxn of colour. L.J. Roberts is an American genderqueer textile artist who explores queer and feminist politics in their work. It's a powerful medium to explore ideas, and both their work has found its rightful place in art galleries all over the world.

Here at Lucy & Yak, we have many people making a living with a needle and thread! Our team in India use their sewing skills to be able to earn a living wage, making Yaks. We pay them way above the minimum wage in India, which means they can earn enough to feed and support their families whilst living their lives. They have opportunities to learn more skills and training, the hours are flexible and the conditions are good. The skill of sewing is truly empowering them and most importantly, they enjoy it!

We also have our sewing team in Barnsley being a part of bringing the industry back to life. Yorkshire used to be a breeding ground for mills. Bradford was home to the biggest silk factory in the world and employed thousands of people from the surrounding areas. Wakefield was also widely known for its wool trading and cloth making. These factories meant that population and capital grew throughout Yorkshire. But the textile industry came into decline due to competition coming from overseas, and so today many of them sit there empty, as a sad reminder of what once was.

But our team of amazing seamstresses are part of bringing this industry back to life. They design and make our Made in Britain Collection in our warehouse situated in Barnsley, South Yorkshire. We have recently hired more sewing geniuses to get on board with the collection so we can expand! Not only is their skill allowing them to earn money and be part of something creative, it's bringing the trade back to life. Only this time, with much better circumstances.

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#whomadeyourclothes? These guys!⠀⠀ ⠀⠀ Our lovely team of machinists and seamstresses (Amanda, Carol, Trish, Tracey, Mary and Sylvia) have over 150 years of experience between them and have made every piece of our Made in Britain collection in-house, from start to finish.⠀⠀ ⠀⠀ “It sounds like a small change but the importance of well paid, stable jobs in rural Yorkshire, which employees can take real pride in, cannot be understated. We hope to one day to inspire a new generation of seamstresses and machinists to train and learn these wonderful skills so that they don’t die out." - Lucy⠀ ⠀ Read a little bit from each of the team on our Made in Britain story highlight 👀

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Sewing may still be seen by some as a 'woman's job' but it's definitely now a skill worth knowing, and worth respecting. Its origins may be deemed negative and against women's rights, but the people of today are turning that around. I can only hope that the women of the 1800's would be proud to see us using sewing to fight our rights and earn a living so we can buy and own our houses now.

You can find more of Ash's writing at on her personal blog.

Ash is also doing a wonderful tutorial with us on Instagram this weeks stay tuned for that!

And check our her beautiful embroidered creations via her instagram below:

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