Paine, Sheila 1929-

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Paine, Sheila 1929-


Born September 29, 1929; married Leslie Paine, December 23, 1953 (died, 1974); children: Denzil, Rosamund, Morwenna, Imogen. Education: Attended Hammersmith College of Art and Oxford Polytechnic. Religion: Church of England.


Agent—c/o Author Mail, Inner Traditions/Bear & Company, P.O. Box 388, Rochester, VT 05767-0388.


Writer and lecturer on international embroidery traditions. Has conducted research on embroidery in Western Europe, Russia, East Africa, Egypt, Israel, India, Mexico, United States, and other countries. Royal Geographical Society, fellow.


Institute of Linguists, Embroiderers' Guild, British-Yemeni Society, Oxford Italian Association, Oxford Asian Textile Group.

AWARDS, HONORS: Sunday Times travel writing contest, 1989; Independent travel writing award, 1991.


Chikan Embroidery: The Floral Whitework of India, Shire Ethnography (Aylesbury, Bucks, England), 1989.

Embroidered Textiles: Traditional Patterns from Five Continents, Rizzoli (New York, NY), 1990.

The Afghan Amulet: Travels from the Hindu Kush to Razgrad, St. Martin's Press (New York, NY), 1994.

The Golden Horde: Travels from the Himalaya to Karpathos, Penguin (New York, NY), 1997.

Embroidery from India and Pakistan, University of Washington Press (Seattle, WA), 2001.

The Linen Goddess: Travels from the Red Sea to Prizren, Pallas Athene (London, England), 2003.

Amulets: Sacred Charms of Power and Protection, Inner Traditions (Rochester, VT), 2004.

Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including Embroidery, World of Embroidery, Country Living, and Times Literary Supplement.


Sheila Paine is an author whose writings seek to record the cultural traditions of embroidery across the world. Her "Out of Central Asia" trilogy is comprised of The Afghan Amulet: Travels from the Hindu Kush to Razgrad, The Golden Horde: Travels from the Himalaya to Karpathos, and The Linen Goddess: Travels from the Red Sea to Prizren. All of these titles are loosely based on Paine's quest to learn the origin of an embroidered amulet she found in a shop in London. The quest serves as a framework for her extensive travels and discoveries, which have more to do with documenting endangered cultural traditions than with solving the mystery of the amulet.

The Linen Goddess, in which Paine travels to Somalia, Sudan, and Albania, among other countries, "is an elegant work," according to Audrey Snowden of Library Journal. In reviewing The Afghan Amulet, which includes Paine's travels to areas of Pakistan and Iran closed to Westerners, Alice Joyce of Booklist called Paine a "remarkably fearless traveler" and her story "travel writing of the highest caliber." Suffering through tribal warfare, rural poverty, and the dangers of traveling through Muslim countries alone, Paine proceeds undaunted in tracking down the origins of superstitions and tribal traditions that have been documented and passed on through women's handiwork. Her encounters "draw such a horrendous picture that the reader marvels at and admires Paine's derring-do," wrote a reviewer for Publishers Weekly.

In Amulets: Sacred Charms of Power, she examines the ancient tradition of symbolism through amulets as they existed throughout history up to the present day. The book contains over four hundred photographs and examples from over thirty countries personally visited by Paine.

Paine once told CA: "It was a rug in the souk of Fez in Morocco that launched me on my writing career. I hadn't the slightest intention of buying it but succumbed to the blandishments of traders with generations of dealers' blood coursing through their veins. I was so cross with myself that I stopped at a cafe in the next town and wrote step by step exactly how it had happened. This piece of writing was runner-up in the Sunday Times travel writing contest. Preferring to be a winner, I tried for the Independent's travel writing award the following year and won it. I was then approached by Penguin and asked to write a travel book, but refused.

"I had been travelling for many years recording embroidery traditions and had written two books on the subject, but my travel jottings on people and places I had always thrown away, thinking they were of interest only to myself. Now I began to keep them, but still refused a contract as I feel strongly that travel writing must record the truth and can only be submitted for publication once the journeys are complete and have proved interesting enough for readers to enjoy.

"The aim of my travelling is always to search for the social context, traditions and patterns of embroidery and to record them in my embroidery books. The aim of my travel writing is to lead my readers with me, observing and describing the people and places, the hilarious moments, the dangerous moments. I am very careful never to make judgments but to leave my readers to form their own. I spare them the pedestrian details, the personal problems, the tedium of the road. I refrain from navel-fluffism. I steer clear of library references. I hope to be only thought-provoking and entertaining."

Paine told CA: "I have always been a writer but never a reader, eschewing in particular travel writing in case I might be influenced. That could have been for the better, of course. My knowledge of, and early career in, four foreign languages gave me a love of words.

"I write in longhand on A4 lined paper with a fibre tip pen and then type [my writing] onto my laptop. I've taken over one of the kids' old bedrooms and work at a big window surrounded by treetops.

"My favourite book is The Afghan Amulet. It was written spontaneously, with no thought of publication (who in their right mind says ‘no’ to Penguin?)"



Booklist, October 1, 1994, Alice Joyce, review of The Afghan Amulet: Travels from the Hindu Kush to Razgrad, p. 232.

Bookwatch, February, 2005, review of Amulets: Sacred Charms of Power and Protection.

Library Journal, April 15, 2004, Audrey Snowden, review of The Linen Goddess: Travels from the Red Sea to Prizren, p. 112.

Publishers Weekly, August 22, 1994, review of The Afghan Amulet, p. 49.