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Book Review: Women’s Work – The First 20,000 Years – Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times

Informative and scholarly writing combine to produce an easy-to-read, enjoyable journey looking at the role women’s work played in creating and shaping civilisations.

Barber explains why spinning and cloth-making became almost the sole domain of women and uses a term called ‘the string revolution’ to illustrate how 20-30,000 years ago Paleolithic man began twisting handfuls of fibres together into a long, strong thread.  Needles became common, clothing was made and even decorated using beads.  She writes ‘it opened the door to an enormous array of new ways to save labour and improve the odds of survival, such as the harnessing of steam did for the Industrial Revolution.’

Women’s work embodied the making of perishables – both cloth and food, so to paint an accurate picture Elizabeth Wayland Barber has delved into documented archeological discoveries, mythological stories, literature, ethnology as well as historical references showing that women were a powerful force in the economic well-being of ancient and early modern worlds – through the making of fabric.

This book provides a fascinating world-view glimpse into patterns, clothing, spinning, weaving, trade and even language through the ways cloth-making shaped the lives of women.

Highly recommended as simply an entertaining read or to inspire more in-depth personal research.  A detailed Bibliography for each chapter will help with this.  Purchase here.

Cathy Jack Coupland

Women’s Work – The First 20,000 Years – Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times
Elizabeth Wayland Barber
This fascinating history into women's twenty thousand years of making and weaving cloth reveals the vital role they played in helping to make and shape civilisations.

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