The project “Linen-Made -- 1” aims to express the overall ambivalence I feel when looking at my family’s tradition of embroidering the wedding dowry in Southern Italy, between the 1940s and 1990s. Through collage and awkwardly designed needlework, my project aims to reflect on the feeling of generational detachment: my profound admiration for the artefacts my mother and grandmother produced is contrasted by the uncomfortable awareness of breaking the continuity of the practice. With this oscillating sentiment, I intend to celebrate the beauty of their embroidered designs while also conveying the discomfort I feel when I think about the history of Southern Italian embroidery.

All the women in my family embroidered their dowries while growing up; I remember seeing my grandmother and mother as they worked together on their needlework in a corner of the living room. Generally speaking, Italian girls were raised with the certainty of marriage and motherhood, which were events that demanded the assembling of a dowry. Adorned by countless bedsheets and pillowcases, the embellished linens had also the purpose to establish social status for the bride and her family in order to land a fruitful marriage. Although laborious and rooted in patriarchal beliefs, the embroidery of the dowry was a process that allowed girls to daydream about the future and to generate art. In hindsight, embroidery was the only art form women could pursue without being frowned upon ¾ especially in smaller, rural towns. In the privacy of their own dreams, girls and women nurtured a profound love for needlework, which then swelled in pride for their own completed dowry. My mother and grandmother smile broadly when they tell me the stories behind their favourite works of decades old.

The bond and sense of community generated by the embroidery of the dowry was intragenerational, as the mothers, once their daughters would reach adulthood, would pass on their dowry to them. The linens are so pure in quality and perfect in execution that they barely show any sign of age decades later: my grandmother’s towels, which she made in the 1940s, are still beautifully preserved.

Embroidery, especially the assembling of a handmade wedding dowry, is a dying practice; in the line of women in my family working on their dowries, I was the one to halter the practice by not picking up the needle for myself: the generational gap between myself and my mother was way too wide to allow a smooth continuity. Although I don’t feel remorse for never learning needlework, I still look back at my family and feel the detachment of growing up in a different reality. 

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