Big statements from small embellishments

McKissick Museum celebrates needlework in new exhibition

Click image to enlarge.

More than a required skill for girls and women in the 19th century, hand sewing was an act of creative expression. From functional household textiles, to clothing, to home décor accents, small embellishments made a big statement as an indicator of women’s artistry and imagination.

The University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum is proud to present Needlework: Women’s Unspoken Art Form. Guest curated by art history major and USC staff member Rachel McKeown, this exhibit celebrates the individuality and craftsmanship of historic textiles from McKissick Museum’s permanent collection. The exhibit examines the embellishments as fine art, contending that the aesthetic qualities and skillful mastery of techniques are of greater historical significance than the textile’s function. Viewers are thus encouraged to closely examine the quality of the needlework, rather than the type of textile, on display.

Through the exhibit, McKeown aims to educate the public about the art of needlework and examine how women’s work in textiles might be understood as a high art form. “Being an art history major, I have studied what society considers ‘high art.’ Historically women have been unseen in the art world. I want to spotlight the creativity that our great-grandmothers embodied through embellishing clothes, blankets, doilies, handkerchiefs, and curtains.”

Needlework: Women’s Unspoken Art Form is on exhibit through Aug. 31. Free.

Provided images in this post are credited to David Hansen.

Lunchtime Tour: Small Embellishments
Wednesday, June 28, 2023, 12-1 p.m. at McKissick Museum

Participants will meet in the second-floor lobby at noon

Join guest curator Rachel McKeown for a lunchtime tour of the exhibition Needlework: Women’s Unspoken Art Form. Using examples on display, McKeown will discuss how embroidery took center stage in the 19th century as a way for females, from adolescence to adulthood, to express their creativity by adorning everything from household textiles to fancy clothing.

McKissick’s full calendar of events is available online.

About the University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum

The University of South Carolina’s McKissick Museum tells the story of Southern life: community, culture, and the environment. The museum is located on the University of South Carolina’s historic Horseshoe with available parking in the Pendleton Garage at the corner of Pendleton and Bull streets. All exhibitions are free and open to the public unless otherwise stated. The museum is open from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturdays. The museum is closed Sundays and on University holidays. For more information, please call 803-777-7251 or visit us online at