Saturday, March 23, 2013

30. Broad Arrow: Prison Garb

Broad Arrows by Becky Brown

Emmeline Pankhurst arrested in 1914

The British WSPU made good use of the idea of repeated arrests for civil disobedience. Prison was not a deterrent to women who used images of jailed ladies for shock value, hoping to wear down  Parliament's anti-suffrage stance.

Women's Social and Political Union founders
Emmeline and Christabel Pankhurst in prison garb

Prison was a horrible experience for well-bred women: the food, confinement, hygiene, abuse and---to hear it from some---the wardrobe. British prisoners were identified (not by stripes as in the U.S.) but by "broad arrows" a triple line stitched or painted on their coarse clothing.

A photo of a prisoner in a cell in Holloway Women's Prison?
---most of the photos of prison garb were made outside jail. 
Jailers knew the value of propaganda photographs. 
Cameras were not permitted inside.

The Broad Arrow became a badge of honor worn by women who'd endured imprisonment.

 Pankhursts and the WSPU 
marching with Broad Arrows on staffs

Artist Sylvia Pankhurst designed a brooch, a literal badge of honor for ex-prisoners, by backing a broad arrow enameled in purple, green and white with a portcullis, the medieval gate that is the traditional symbol of Parliament.

 That symbol became important enough that she featured it on the cover of her history of the movement The Suffragette.

It remains a symbol of the WSPU, here on the historical marker for the London offices.

Broad Arrows by Becky Brown

You can see a similar Broad Arrow in a patchwork design first published in Farm Journal about 1940.

 The magazine showed four blocks together creating a tessellated all-over design.

 BlockBase #1439
shows four blocks rotated.
#1392 Double T is close to the block here, as is #1394 Cactus Flower.
If you want to re-size look at both of those so you get all three patches.

Cutting an 8" Finished Block (12" in Red)
A - Cut 3 squares 3-1/8" (3-3/16" if you use BlockBase's 1/16" inch default). (4-1/2")

B - Cut 2 squares 3-1/2". (4-7/8")

Cut each in half diagonally to make 2 triangles. You need 4 triangles.

C - Cut 1 square 5-7/8" (5-13/16") (8-1/2")

Broad Arrows by Georgann Eglinski

Broad Arrows by Dustin Cecil


  1. I had seen that design before and interpreted it as an anchor. I believe it was in one of the red and white sampler quilts in the Infinity show. This meaning has a lot more resonance.

  2. I too have seen this one and did not know the history behind it. I really enjoy the history you share about each block. Thank you so much for sharing this all with us out here.

  3. I want to emphasize that I added the symbolism to this block. It is interesting that Farm Journal called it Broad Arrow but I doubt that there woman's page editor was thinking about British prison wear when she named it in 1940.

  4. The broad arrow was a symbol used by the British government to denote ownership.even the inmates workbooks hobnails were hammered in a broad arrow shape to denote government property had passed over the land.