Stitching a Southern Identity: Defining Female Culture in the Early South

Few decorative or utilitarian forms were as expressive or as vital to a woman’s life as the needle arts, which provided a source of artistic outlet at a time in American history when few others were available for females. Stitched handcrafts were not considered on par with the fine arts of painting and sculpture, fields that were generally male defined and male oriented.

Most needlework was not produced by professionals. It was created by school-aged girls and grown women with homes and families who demanded much of their time and energy. Skill with the needle symbolized eligibility for marriage and was a continued measure of success throughout a woman’s life. Stitching a Southern Identity, a seminar by Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) will celebrate the skill and sophistication of these once marginalized works as well as the dedication of the girls and women behind the thread.

The two-day seminar will feature lectures, workshop sessions, and tours of the MESDA collections. Linda Eaton, Senior Curator of Textiles at the Winterthur Museum, Garden & Library, will provide the keynote address. Leading scholars in the field will round out the lectures. Workshop sessions will feature experts in the field as well as Cassie Dickson, a noted weaver who processes flax to linen and cultivates silkworms for silk cloth. A curator-led tour of MESDA as well as a specialty tour, “It’s a Woman’s World: Exploring Women’s Lives through the Decorative Arts,” will be available at an additional charge prior to the start of the seminar.

The seminar will be held March 16–17 and will explore needlework executed by girls and women in early America and will take place at Old Salem Museums & Gardens in Winston-Salem. Space is limited and pre-registration is required to ensure a place. General registration with two workshops is $300. General registration with one workshop is $250. Register online at

The Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts (MESDA) is the preeminent center for researching, collecting, and exhibiting decorative arts made and used in the early American South. MESDA is one of the museums at Old Salem Museums & Gardens. MESDA is located at 924 S. Main Street in Winston-Salem. For more information call 336-721-7360 or visit


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