Thursday 19 May 2011

The Flame of Stitching

We are getting very excited here about next year's Olympic Games - we have heard that runners with the Olympic flame will be passing close by - heading towards Guildford on their route from Greece to London. I don't think I shall be volunteering this time to run part of that epic relay but I shall certainly be there to cheer whoever does. It seems to me that we are all part of Life's relay, particularly where the art and craft of stitching is concerned - it is down to us, after all, to keep that torch aflame. And what a privilege it is to be part of a tradition that reaches back into hallowed time. I am so enjoying my Great Courses series of lectures on Northern Renaissance Art - there are so many wonderful paintings - and I keep being struck by the cloths depicted in them. It seems that just about everyone reading not only rests their book of prayers on a cushion, but also they keep it protected by the addition of another embellished cloth. The one above has four tassels, which to someone finding it hundreds of years later might suggest a chalice cloth, but as we can see that may not always have been the case.
My favourite is this altar painting - a central panel of a triptych by Robert Campin that depicts the annunciation. Here the Virgin is still engrossed in her devotions, undisturbed as yet by the arrival of the Archangel Gabriel. You can see the cloth upon which her book rests. And not only that, but also another book on the table resting on the bag that would have contained it and kept it safe from the elements. And look again. Can you see the elaborate, ritualistic towel hanging by the window, like a Rushnyki, ready for visitors who have rinsed their hands? This room is full of ceremonial cloths. While our rooms may not be filled with particularly symbolic or religious cloths, there is a certain ritualistic power in the cloths we make to adorn our homes. They announce to family and visitors a pleasure in sharing; a delight and beauty in that which can be made by the hand with simple tools; and  the warmth of time devoted to giving what may not be deemed necessary, but that which is over and above anything required, expressing nourishment for the soul. And it is not just you or I alone, our friends or Guilds sitting in their room, but an entire world of stitchers, with different languages, traditions, stories - and songs. Let's all sing our song of stitching together for others to hear, now and in the future.
This short clip celebrates the artwork called The National Unity Rushnyk, which arrived at the Ukrainian Museum in Manhattan's East Village on Friday 26th January 2008.


  1. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. At first I started stitching as a hobby, and now I find it as a link to the past -- I am learning more about culture and textiles and design. Your blog is helping in this endeavor.