Saturday, 20 December 2014

A Stitch in Time

Needlework is a bit of a lost art since nimble-fingered girls found a thousand and one better ways of passing the time, and patching clothes and darning socks went the way of washboards and boilers.  I rather like this cartoonish mermaid with her mirror, a detail on one of the many old embroidered "samplers" kept in the Goodhart Collection at Montacute House in Somerset.  Getting a useable photograph was quite tricky, hand held, as the faded threads and fabric are kept behind glass in very subdued lighting, for obvious reasons of preservation.  This one is 17th century, I seem to recall.

Inevitably, some extraordinarily skilful examples of embroidery have turned up in the Ring Hoard.  This one -- rather faded, scuffed and threadbare in places now -- must once have been a feast for the eye, and displays stitchwork of a quality that is practically supernatural.  Very small, very nimble fingers would have been essential to create the elaborate, finely-worked patterns, not to mention superhuman patience and concentration.

A modern restorer's colour reconstruction of a segment of this intricately-worked piece looks like this:

"Intricate" is barely adequate as a description.  It positively invites pareidolia, the brain's irrepressible tendency to find significant forms (such as faces) in random patterns, especially where a high degree of repetitive symmetry is present, as here.

In the days before TV or Nintendo, a pleasant winter's evening might have been wiled away, sat near a fire with a pipe of something stimulating, exploring the endless figurations and recombinations revealing themselves in the flickering candlelight.  Though a restless night, broken by disturbing dreams, may well have followed too close an examination.  There is a distinct sense that those tiny nimble fingers may not have been altogether human, not entirely benign.

No comments: