This is a continuation of a serial story from this art journal.
If a lady aspires to virtuous standing ,
She should attend well to her work,
And leave idle contemplation,
And distractions, such as the desire for precious objects
or the attractions of comely men
To the vulgar.
Keep your eyes on your needles, ladies
And your hands on your work.
Pithy Sayings of Lady Margaret Hoby
Nobody who sews or just loves fabric, can put off visiting that holy-of-holies, the V&A. I was dying to revisit the great fabric collection there, and terribly disappointed to find that it’s been broken up and put into storage. It turns out the display frames were wearing out, and the small samples of fabric, embroidery, lace and other bits of antique and retro needlework were at risk.
“Come back in a year and check out the new off-site facility,” I was told at the information desk. Hummm just a hop, skip and a jump from California, and not in my budget again for a few years….
Well there are still a lot of old fabrics in the British galleries. Like Margaret Layton’s glorious embroidered jacket and a delightfully old linen pillowcase with bobbin lace insertions and whitework embroidery. Wouldn’t you just love to run your fingers over that? A good night’s sleep would be absolutely guaranteed.
But it was the little linen purse, Tudor or Stuart era, embroidered with roses, carnations, and something that might just be a butterfly, in gilt, cream, red and yellow threads, that really drew my attention. I read the plaque, “Embroidered with silver-gilt and silk thread in tent, Gobelin and plaited braid stitches”. I love machine embroidery as much as the next hobbyist, but no sewing task brings me as much pleasure as separating a skein of embroidery floss,and working my own lazy daisies and split stiches on a remnant of linen or a soft pillowcase. And am I the last person in the western world who still carries an embellished square of embroidered batiste in her pocket, for drying her hands or face in a pinch?
Don’t get me wrong, the invention of the sewing machine was a Godsend, but sewing handwork is soothing, and feeling the thread running through my fingers, fulfills the creative urge like nothing else.
That little purse gave me some great ideas for the bag I’m planning to make while I’m here. Wouldn’t those little stitched bom-bom bead-like things, (I wonder what they called those in Tudor Times) be a great addition to the bottom edge of MY bag?
I guess I should ALSO admit to all of you, (I’m pretty sure this is a girls-only blog readership, right?) that there was more than one reason I dallied in the lower section of the British Galleries the V&A that day. FIRST, of course, was the inspiration for modern sewing projects found in antique fabrics and clothing.
Another was my delight in studying historical instruments. It's not all clothes and pillowcases in the galleries and I haven't even gotten around to telling you how gorgeous some of those old babies are. You all know, already, how I feel about making my own music. The idea that women just like me once drew music from these beautifully ornamented keyboards, strings and pipes four or more centuries ago blows me away.
And finally, Ok I admit it. There was a particularly fine looking fella cruising the same zone.
* * *
To Be Continued