Stitching to Survive

Although Armenians are famed for their beautiful religious art: church architecture, illuminated manuscripts and intricate khatchkars (stone crosses), the most common form of artistic expression was through their textiles, a far more ephemeral medium. From time immemorial, Armenian women have created and ornamented clothing and created works that delighted the eye of the wearer and viewer. A bride’s worth and reputation was judged by her hand skills.

The works on exhibit showcase a sampling of different genres of women’s art created in the last century. Embroidered clothing, exquisite laces, knitted socks, domestic furnishings, knotted rugs and other fine examples made for domestic use or to be sold commercially are shown with more recent genres made by Armenian-American women. The women immigrants continued to value embroideries and hand skills, but often used new means to express their creativity. Crochets, needlepoint, and political banners joined older forms of needlework. The art of doll making, once specifically intended for children, became a means of expressing dépaysement, the yearning for a lost homeland. Dolls became a means of celebrating the lost traditions of folk dress that once defined all Armenian women, identifying their social class or region of origin.

The Armenian Museum of America in Watertown now houses the largest collection of Armenian textiles in North America and is a rich resource for textile research. This exhibit, co-sponsored by the Armenian International Women’s Association, is on display in the second floor gallery from September 23-February 28.