12 Princesses | Contemporary Embroidery by Spike Dennis

Historically through the centuries stitch or embroidery has functioned as a source of constraint for women as well as providing a weapon of resistance. This work explores this duality through the Grimm’s tale of the 12 Dancing Princesses.

The Twelve Dancing Princesses” is a German fairy tale originally published by the Brothers Grimm in 1812 in Kinder- und Hausmärchen as tale number 133.

Embroidery has throughout the ages has promoted submission to the expected norms of feminine obedience and often evokes the stereotype of the virgin in opposition to the whore – an infantilising representation of women’s sexuality. Embroidery has become indelibly associated with stereotypes of femininity.

12 princesses, each prettier and far more beautiful than the last, sleep in twelve beds in the same room; every night their doors are securely locked, but in the morning their dancing shoes are found to be worn through as if they had been dancing all night. The king, perplexed, promises his kingdom and each daughter to any man who can discover the princesses’ midnight secret within three days and three nights, but those who fail within the set time limit will be put to death.

Several princes forfeit their lives in the attempt to uncover the secret of the twelve princesses who conspire against these men to ensure that their secret remains undiscovered.