It's easy, in an age when machines can crank out complicated embroidery for hats, shirts and jackets, to forget that history viewed needlecrafts differently.
Elizabeth Graff, member of the Hagerstown chapter of the Embroiderer's Guild of America, points to a 1797 German sampler.
"Textiles were among the most valuable things in the (late 18th-century European) household," Graff says. "They were handed down as heirlooms. In (19th-century) China, embroidery was ranked above painting."
Graff stands in a staging area at the Washington County Museum of Fine Arts with museum director Rebecca Massie Lane. They look over recently received textile artworks that are part of Threads That Bind: Unraveling the Meaning of Embroidery, an exhibit opening this weekend at the museum.
The show includes 35 works produced during the past 300 years by artists in Europe, Asia, South America and the United States. The items present embroidery not just as ornamentation but as an educational tool, a badge of identity and an expression of political resistance.