Durham University

Department of Archaeology


Publication details for Dr Mary Brooks

Brooks, Mary M. (2017). Performing curiosity: re-viewing women’s domestic embroidery in seventeenth-century England. The Seventeenth Century 32(1): 1-29.

Author(s) from Durham


For many in seventeenth-century England, curiosity became an intellectual and physical means of exploring natural and artificial wonders and categorising tangible and intangible things. For well-off Englishwomen, “curious work” had a more specific meaning. It described a specific type of pictorial, decorative embroidery, usually learnt in school and practised in the home, possessing moral agency and functioning as an indicator of status and wealth. Although recognised for their exuberant use of extravagant materials, these embroideries have proved challenging to appreciate and understand. This paper re-situates these “curious works”, placing them within the changing concept and practice of curiosity in early modern England by using an object-based evidence approach combined with an historical archaeology methodology. Viewing these artefacts through the “lens of curiosity” provides a new perspective on these embroideries as the outcome of the performance of the feminine curiosity and thus the equivalent to the masculine project of curiosity.