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American History Through The Eye Of A Needle ~ Part II

Aug 17, 2007
Three hundred years ago the then colonies in America were inhabited largely by a European hierarchy who'd brought their lower classes with them to do the hard work. There was much mingling and intermarrying with each other and with the Indians - the farmers, the peddlers, the sailors, the little merchants, the
wilderness fighters -- the first Americans...

The Dutch built the town on Manhattan Island, and the patroons' large estates on Long Island and up the Hudson River valley. German peasants slowly defeated the Pennsylvania wilderness. Scotch-Irish struggled into the Carolina mountains. Swedes settled Delaware.

New France ran from Maine to Detroit to St. Louis and up the Mississippi from Mobile and New Orleans to Illinois, Missouri and the Dakota headwaters of the Missouri River. New Spain stretched from Peru and Mexico to San Antonio, Los Angeles, San Francisco.

The Russians came down from Alaska to Monterey. Among all these pioneers, only a few at first, were Italians, Danes, Poles, Armenians, Assyrians, Czechs, Slovaks, Finns, Greeks, Norwegians, Hungarians, Africans, Arabs, Egyptians, Levantines. Protestants ruled New England; Catholics governed Maryland; Jews were in all the colonies. All varieties of humankind were here, and all the languages, faiths, cultures.

By painful stages on wagon tracks through forests and by boats sailing along empty coasts, the English, Irish, Scottish, Dutch, French and Spanish gentlemen were meeting on the neutral ground of their lofty social class. Beneath them the lower classes were mingling and intermarrying with each other and with the Indians - the farmers, the peddlers, the sailors, the little merchants, the wilderness fighters; the first Americans.

Struggling for bare life itself, against the forests, the grudging soil, the weather, the sea, they learned that differences between human beings are superficial and that a common human nature and a common need, a common hope, unite all humankind on this hostile earth. In sharing danger and hardship, they learned that every person is self-controlling, responsible for his acts; that each one makes his own life what it is and that all alike must struggle to survive and to make human living better than it is.

This truth was not in the feudal idea that God creates inferior and superior classes of human beings. It was not in the Acts of Parliament and Kings. It was not in the schools that taught gentlemen's sons the duties of their privileged status. It was not in the arts and writings that expressed the Old World's concept of the nature of man, and it was not in the colonies' social order of authority above, obedience below. But it was in the first American needlework.

Needlework is a pretty occupation for a woman's hands. No governor and no scholar noticed it, and the women who made it did not guess that their needles were prophesying the World Revolution. They believed that they belonged in the class where they were born; they thought that they were loyal subjects of their King. But they did not like the old needlework patterns.

They made new patterns. A hundred years before the time when their grandsons would attack the Old World belief that persons are merely particles of the State, American women rejected that ancient fallacy as it was expressed in European needlework.

In typical Old World needlework, each detail is a particle of the whole; no part of the design can stand alone, whole and complete in itself. The background is solid, the pattern is formal, and a border encloses all.

American women smashed that rigid order to bits. They discarded backgrounds, they discarded borders and frames. They made the details create the whole, and they set each detail in boundless space, alone, independent, complete.

They did in needlework what Americans would later do in the human world of living human beings. As Americans were the first to know and to declare that a person is the unit of human life on earth, that each human being is a self-governing source of the life-energy that creates, controls, and changes societies, institutions, governments, so American women were the first to reverse the old meaning in needlework design. They no longer copied the stiff, formal order imposed upon enclosed patterns; they made each detail free, self-reliant, complete by itself, not quite like any other, and they let these details create their whole effect.

Just as individual freedom suddenly released the terrific human energy that swept the Old World's Great Powers from this hemisphere and wholly transformed North America in a third of the time that those Old World Powers had held it, so this reversal of meaning gives American needlework an almost explosive energy that would gather inreasing momentum.
About the Author
John Wigham has been a professional author and editor for 20 years and is a co-founder of Patterns Patch
an online cross stitch club dedicated to counted cross stitch. The website has a small team of writers who are devoted to our cross stitch club and enjoy writing about their hobby.
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