‘So am I detached / From the fabric which claims me’ Women, Fabric, and Poetry

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Patricia Coughlan


Women are immemorially associated with fabric, an association both metaphorical and metonymic, and one widespread in myth, legend and folklore. Spinning and weaving are bound up with women and femininity in fundamental ways, entwining socio-economic histories with deep and persistent trans-cultural symbolic and ideological systems. Women spinning or weaving are figures for both death and birth, and ancient equivalences represent gestation itself as a process of weaving. Drawing on Bracha Ettinger’s revisionary theorizing of maternal subjectivity as both seamless and a paradigm for human creativity, this article teases out significant strands in the representation by contemporary poets Boland, McGuckian, and Ní Chuilleanáin of the women-fabric association and its meanings. If there is a powerful cultural given that women in some sense are fabric, that which has been woven, these three poets have fabricated powerful and various accounts of the different proposition that women are agents of their own weaving, in McGuckian’s words both ‘detached’ and constituting ‘the fabric which claims’ them.

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