Seemingly from another space, a 320-foot long scroll emerges into the room; it cascades onto the floor, winding, twisting, and creeping into corners as it stretches across the room to create an entire landscape of densely textured text.
Handwritten in cursive, the transcribed text of Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own (1929) was lovingly embroidered by many women. Sixty-four 3’ x 5’ panels were sewn together to revive Woolf’s extended essay written for two lectures to female students. Her internal monologue about male privilege and female exclusion from independence, income, and education became a pivotal analysis of the creative freedom of women. By stitching each of the 40,000 words, we have resurrected her text proclaiming its relevancy today.
The viewer is slowed down to take in the gravity of the text, unlike the fast pace of the Internet. Impossible to read, the embroidered words give a sense of the meaning and labour involved.
Woolf proposes that all a woman needs to be creative is a room and money of her own. I have invited many women into the room of my own and gave them the opportunity to help recreate Woolf’s iconic text by embroidering, a task that was commonly seen as women’s busywork. Her words rang true over the course of the past few months as the women stitched, shared stories – personal and political – ate cakes and drank tea from delicately patterned vintage teacups with saucers (sometimes with a shot or two of cognac) in my studio. Virginia Woolf’s presence was felt as her words inspired impromptu recitations, recollections, and community connections.
The work was evolutionary. One author, Virginia Woolf; one idea to revive her text in script; three rolls of canvas; and 86 women and three men volunteered to recreate her essay by stitching every sentence of the book. Woolf tells the story of women from many points of view to construct a collage of perspectives. It has always taken a community to make this world happen, and this community of women has come together in my studio and beyond to weave their threads through the tapestry of Woolf’s work.