URJHS Volume 8


Textile Arts and Handcraft Participation in the Florida Parishes Region of Louisiana

Kristin McNab
Debbie Johnson*
Southeastern Louisiana University


The purpose of this study was to document textile arts and handcraft participation in the Florida Parishes region of Louisiana. Six women (of varying ages) participated in the interview-survey procedure; each interview took thirty minutes to one hour to complete. The study primarily helped to gain knowledge about five important factors related to arts and handcraft. First, the questions in the interview process were specifically directed to people who sew (or perform other handcraft techniques) on a regular basis. Second, the interview collected the demographics of the women and when they started partaking in arts/handcraft activities. Third, participants were asked to summarize creative activities over time. Fourth, the interview inquired about skills for specific arts/handcraft techniques. Fifth, participants were asked about level of enjoyment of handcraft activities.


Arts and handcrafts have been denoted as pastimes, jobs, or necessities in the lives of women. This domestic lifestyle, embodied by women (and at times men) or homemakers, dates back as far as the eighteenth to the early twentieth centuries during the Arts and Crafts Movement in England (Betjemann, 2008). According to Betjemann, “[T]he era of Arts and Crafts Movement thus developed ways of thinking about crafts that are skeptical of practiced, learned, or reproducible technique” (p. 183). The Arts and Crafts Movement was a significant time in history and paved the way for the incredible talents that are witnessed today.

However, not many women and men today express their styles or abilities through homemade clothing, accessories, or home décor. Even though there is a tremendous number of handcraft techniques available (such as embroidery, knitting, counted cross stitch, sewing, lace making, needlepoint, appliqué, crochet, quilting, tatting, smocking, weaving, and fabric dyeing/painting), the majority of individuals choose to purchase manufactured items.

Although not as popular or as common as they once were, arts and handcrafts are still around today. There is a small number (mostly middle age-elderly women) who still take the economical approach of living by cutting everyday expenses and saving money when it comes to dress or decoration. Some of these women use their skills to earn a second income; they also use their handcrafts as a way of expression and individuality.

Related Research

One similarity between past and present handcrafters is that handcrafts were not just made for domestic purposes in the past as one might think. According to Boydston (2008, p. 286), “[H]istorians have been inclined to take notice of women’s sewing only within in the context of a nostalgic domesticity, suggesting that colonial and early American clothing production occurred chiefly as acts of maternal or wifely devotion. . . .” It is important to note that handcrafts were not just performed for domestic purposes; at times they showed individuality or an expression of leisure enjoyment (Boydston, 2008).

Many handcrafters from the past were from rural areas. These individuals used their abilities and knowledge to save or make money, and handcrafting was a common pasttime. According to Grim (2008, p. 539), “[E]vidence suggests that it was rural women who fully understood the market economy beyond the selling of staple crops, as they found ways to convert everyday food production, sewing, laundering, hair dressing, and cleaning into money-making ventures.” Handcrafting was considered also to be “self-empowering” in earlier centuries. It was self-empowering because men simply did not (and could not) perform many of these tasks


The purpose of this study was to document textile arts and handcraft participation in the Florida Parishes region of Louisiana. The interview and survey were completed over an eight-week period during the Spring 2008. The interview consisted of a one-on-one question and answer session that lasted between thirty minutes and one hour. There were approximately fifteen questions, all with varying lengths (see Appendix). There were two interviewers who conducted the six interviews (which consisted of relatives, friends, and strangers) over an eight week period. One interviewer conducted in-depth interviews for four of the participants and the other interviewer conducted the remaining two interviews. All of the interviews were conducted at the place appropriate and convenient for each of the six participants. The results were then discussed, combined, and presented.


The study indicated who, why, and for what reasons the participants made particular items and what arts/handcrafts they knew how (and how skilled) to perform. The results indicated that all participated in sewing activities (n=six) (See Table 1). The handcrafts with five individuals indicating participation were embroidery, counted cross stitch, and needlepoint. Crochet and quilting each had three participants. Appliqué and fabric dyeing/painting were practiced by two participants). Smocking and weaving each had one participant). The activities that were not practiced by any of the participants were lace making and tatting.

Table 1. Textile Arts/Handcraft Participation

Interview-Survey Participants
Counted Cross Stitch      
Lace Making                    
Needle Point                  
Fabric Dyeing/Painting    
  (n = 6)
                     83% (n = 5)
                          33% (n = 2)
       83% (n = 5)
                          100% (n = 6)
               0 % (n = 0)
                   83% (n = 5)
                   33% (n = 2)
                       50% (n = 3)
                     50% (n = 3)
                      0% (n = 0)
                       17% (n = 1)
                      17% (n = 1)
    33% (n = 2)

Note : The totals may be more than 6 because participants were allowed to choose more than one option

Most of the participants indicated that sewing was their most used and skilled ability out of all of the handcrafts. This was noticed in all of their personal items they detailed during the interview. Some of the purposes included: graduation and prom dresses, baby clothing (mostly embroidered), home décor (throw pillows, blankets, baby bedding, drapery, and quilts), and gifts (wedding, birthday, births of children). Each participant went into detail discussing how, why, and for whom they made all of their handcrafts. The most common reason was for gifts, leisure, and economic reasons. The consensus was that the handcrafts were made for relatives or friends.

Although economic reasons are important in an individual’s decision to produce handcrafts, most of the individuals interviewed simply enjoyed performing handcrafts. Thus, they did not perform the handcrafts solely for domestic purposes. The sample is described in Table 2. Most of the handcrafters in the survey indicated they lived in rural environments (five out of the six participants), and many of them made crafts for a second income or in lieu of having to purchase gifts for relatives and friends outside of the home. Like handcrafters of the past, some of the participants interviewed indicated that handcraft production was self-empowering because most were self-taught.

Table 2 Demographic Information of the Sample

Interview-Survey Participants (n = 6)

Age (n = 6)

       Range        18-75 years
       Mean         43 years

Race (n = 6)

       White, non-Hispanic       100% (n = 6)
       Black                                   0% (n = 0) 

Residence (n = 6)

       Rural              83% (n = 5)
       Suburban        17% (n =1)

Occupational Category (n = 5)

       Employed/Student                           80% (n = 4)
       Not employed outside the home      20% (n = 1)

Note : Categories with fewer than 6 total participants indicate that some surveys were returned with missing data. 


Handcrafting is still practiced today by a small number of individuals. Although handcraft production was more common centuries ago, there are similarities between the reasons handcrafts were made in the past and today.

Although the range of age was 18-75, most of the handcrafters were between the ages of 46-55 (which is considered middle age). This age group seemed logical for the handcrafts they produced: quilts (baby and spouse) and clothing (baby, prom, graduation). Younger individuals do not produce these items in sewing classes or for leisure activities. 

Further study is recommended to expand the size of the sample to include more participants from various backgrounds. Expanding the sample size will allow more comparisons to be made and to determine the role of demographics in handcraft participation. Expanding the sample size will also allow the researchers to determine the extent to which tatting and lace making are practiced in the area.

Sewing and handcrafts allow individuals to express their creativity and also meet the need to economically produce textile articles. It is important that we continue to study the extent to which individuals currently practice these arts. .



Betjemann, P. (2008). Crafts and the limits of skill: Handicrafts revivalism and the problem of technique.  The Journal of Design History , 21(2).

 Boydston, J. (2008). The needle’s eye: Women and work in the age of revolution. The Journal of The Early Republic , 28(2).

 Grim, V. (2008). Work, family, and faith: Rural southern women in the twentieth century. Agricultural History , 82(4).


Date____________ Interviewer___________________________

Please be aware that you do not have to provide any information you are not comfortable providing to any of the questions asked during the interview.

Demographic Information:


_____Over 75


_____ White, non Hispanic
_____ Black
_____ Hispanic
_____ Other: ____________


_____ Rural
_____ Suburban

Occupational Category:

_____ Employed/Student
_____ Not employed outside the home

Income Level:

_____ 0- $9,999
_____ $10,000- 24,999
_____ $25,000 – 49,999
_____ $50,000 +

Highest Education level completed:

___ elementary ___ high school ___ college ___ graduate school

We are going to discuss your experiences with textile arts or handcrafts. Textile arts include the following:

Embroidery   Crochet Knitting Quilting
Counted Cross stitch Tatting Sewing Smocking
Lace making Weaving Needlepoint Applique
Fabric Dyeing/Painting      


Which of the following textile arts/handcrafts have you ever created?

_____ Embroidery
_____ Knitting
_____ Counted Cross stitch
_____ Sewing
_____ Lace making
_____ Needlepoint
_____ Applique

_____ Crochet
_____ Quilting
_____ Tatting
_____ Smocking
_____ Weaving
_____ Fabric Dyeing/Painting
_____ Other _________________



How would you rate your skill level for each of the following? Please circle the number that best describes your skill level.

1 = No skill 2 = Low Skill 3 = Moderate Skill 4 = Good Skill 5 = Excellent


Counted Cross stitch
Lace making
Fabric Dyeing/Painting
Other ____________________

1      2      3      4      5
1      2      3      4      5
1      2      3      4      5
1      2      3      4      5
1      2      3      4      5
1      2      3      4      5
1      2      3      4      5
1      2      3      4      5
1      2      3      4      5
1      2      3      4      5
1      2      3      4      5
1      2      3      4      5
1      2      3      4      5
1      2      3      4      5


Have you participated in group textile art/handcraft activities?

___no ___yes ___don’t know

If yes, what types of activities?

Examples of Textile Art/Handcrafts - Describe the item(s) that you made:

Textile Art/Handcraft Method: ______________________

Reason(s) item was made:

___ income
___ historical event
___ death
___ birthday
___ personal use
___ gift
___ marriage
___ other:__________________
___ fundraising
___ birth
___ anniversary

What, when, where, and from whom was each textile art/handcraft learned?

Discuss major influences on textile art/handcraft making?

Share stories, customs, or interesting information about textile arts/handcrafts.


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