Goldye Waged War by Sewing, as Women Always Have Behind
Over the millennia, men have gone to war while their women kept the home fires burning. But women and their skills were critical backup for the warriors at the front. Throughout history, women stitched everything from socks, sweaters, and mittens to blankets and sheets, including winding sheets or shrouds for the dead.
During and after the Trojan War (thought to be around 1250 B.C.E.), Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, was said to keep suitors at bay by weaving a shroud by day for her husband’s father. Each night, she pulled her work out so no progress was made. Obviously, these would-be suitors were slow learners. Odysseus spent 10 years fighting in the bitter war, and 10 years making his way back home. All the while, Penelope’s virtue remained intact.
It has been rumored that Queen Mathilda, wife of William the Conqueror, had a hand in stitching the Bayeux Tapestry at the time of the Battle of Hastings in the 11th century. However, it is more likely that William’s brother, Bishop Odo, commissioned the Bayeux and had it made by a group of stitchers in England. Researchers are conflicted on the topic of the tapestry’s origins. There are some who believe Queen Mathilda commissioned the sewing of the Bayeux for the purpose of a peace document, rather than her brother-in-law having originated the concept. Other historians believe “La Tapisserie de la Reine Mathilde” is merely a French fable based on the story of Penelope and Odysseus.
Since the American Revolutionary War, Betsy Ross has been famous for having sewn the first American flag, showing 13 stars for the 13 colonies then recognized. But while it is plausible that she did, it has not been established as a historical fact such as the signing of the Declaration of Independence in Philadelphia. No one knows who truly created the flag’s design.
Needle and thread didn’t win the American Civil War, but women contributed to keeping the clothing of the troops on both sides in good repair. One of the last gifts a soldier’s female relative might give him was a compact sewing kit with various items such needles, pins, and buttons. Women sewed bed linens and bed shirts for the wounded and organized sales of their work to raise money for hospitals.
Penelope spent 20 years weaving and unraveling her father-in-law's shroud to stave off suitors while Odysseus was away at the Trojan War and then trying to get home.
While there is no hard evidence that indicates Betsy Ross stitched the Revolutionary Flag, it's certainly possible. A souvenir statuette of Ross sewing the flag.
British women knitting garments for the troops.
In sewing circles, women gathered together to make quilts, bed sheets, and pillowcases for the war effort, and made endless miles of bandages for the wounded.
During World War I, women gathered in sewing and organized groups to craft materials for soldiers such as socks, pajamas, sheets and shirts, as well as quilts. By World War II, British and American women filled roles that went well beyond using a needle and thread. They served in the military and worked in industries like aircraft manufacturing and farming to replace the men away fighting. American and Canadian women also worked with the American Red Cross, founded in 1881 by Clara Barton, in several capacities, one of which was sewing and raffling of finished projects to raise funds.
And as recently as 1987, sewing was used as a way to wage the war on AIDS. The AIDS Memorial Quilt Archive Project memorializes those lost to the disease, while raising money to find a cure. This time, perhaps in the tradition of Bishop Odo, the organization was conceived of and founded by men, although both sexes have participated in the sewing of quilt panels.
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It is difficult to convey the full flavor of this great feast of a novel which is an intriguing blend of thriller, history, love, war, magic, deception, and tragedy all wrapped together in a neat package with an unexpected ending.