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The Tapestry Book, by Helen... - Yesterday Image

The Tapestry Book, by Helen... - Yesterday Image


The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 160 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 poorer, with these great claimants for time. The woven figures are relentless in this, that they claim of the living man a lion’s share of his precious days. His reward is that they outlast him. Food for cynics lies there. The careful worker looks close and sees the warp exposed like fiddle strings here and there. She matches the colour of silk and wool to the elusive shades and covers stitch by stitch the bare threads, in perfect imitation of the loom’s way. Sometimes the warp is gone. Then the work tests the best skill. The threads, the chaîne, must be picked up, one by one, and united invisibly to the new, and then the pattern woven over with the needle. It happens that large holes remain to be filled entirely, the pattern matched, the design caught or imagined from some other part of the fabric. That takes skill indeed. But it is done, and so well, that the repairer is called not that, but a restorer. The two factories in New York, the Baumgarten and Herter ateliers, have certain employés always busy with repairs and restorations. Given even a fragment, the rest is supplied to make a perfect whole, in these studios where the manner of the old workers is so closely studied. For big repairs a drawing is made, a cartoon on the same principle as that of large cartoons, in colours, these following the old. Then it remains for the weaver to set his loom with the corresponding number of threads, that the new fabric may match the old in fineness. Then, too, comes the test of matching colours, a test that almost never discovers a worker equal to its exactions. That is as often as not the fault of the dyer who has supplied colours too fresh. It is the repairs done by the needle that give the best effect, although such restorations are costly and slow. Old repairs on old tapestries have been made, in some instances, very long ago. It often happens, in old sets, that a great piece of another tapestry has been roughly set in, like the knee-patches of a farm boy. The object has been merely to fill the hole, not to match colour scheme or figure. And these patches are by the judicious restorer taken out and their place carefully filled with the needle. Moths, say some, do not devour old tapestries. The reason given is that the ancient wool is so desiccated as to be no longer nutritious. A pretty argument, but not to be trusted, for I have seen moths comfortably browsing on a Burgundian hanging, keeping house and raising families on such precious stuff. Commerce demands that tricks shall be played in the repair room, but not such great ones that serious corruption will result. The coarse verdures of the Eighteenth Century that were thrown lightly off the looms with transient interest are sought now for coverings to antique chairs. To give the unbroken greens more charm, an occasional bird is snipped from a worn branch where he has long and mutely reposed, and is posed anew on the centre of a back or seat. It is the part of the repairer to see that he looks at home in his new surroundings. If metal threads have not been spoken of in this chapter on modus operandi, it is because metal is so little used since the time of Louis XV as to warrant omitting it. And the little that appears seems very different from the “gold of Cyprus” that made gorgeous and valuable the tapestries of Arras, of Brussels and of old Paris.

The Tapestry Book, by Helen Churchill Candee. 161 of 196 03/03/2009 19:16 S CHAPTER XXIII THE BAYEUX TAPESTRY A. D. 1066 O long as one word continues to have more than one meaning, civilised man will continue to gain false impressions. The word tapestry suffers as much as any other—witness the attempt made for hundreds of years among all nations to set apart a word that shall be used only to designate the hand-woven pictured hangings and coverings discussed in this book; arras, gobelins, toile peinte, etc. In English, tapestry may mean almost any decorative stuff, and so comes it that we speak of the wonderful hanging which gives name to this chapter as the tapestry of Bayeux (plates facing pages 242, 243 and 244), when it is in reality an embroidery. But so much is it confused with true tapestry, and so poignantly does it interest the Anglo-Saxon that we will introduce it here, even while acknowledging its extraneous character. To begin with, then, we say frankly that it is not a tapestry; that it has no place in this book. And then we will trail its length through a short review of its history and its interest as a human document of the first order. In itself it is a strip of holland—brown, heavy linen cloth, measuring in length about two hundred and thirty-one feet, and in width, nineteen and two-thirds inches —remarkable dimensions which are accounted for in the neatest way. The hanging was used in the cathedral of the little French city of Bayeux, draped entirely around the nave of the Norman Cathedral, which space it exactly covered. This indicates to archeologists the original purpose of the hanging. On the brown linen is embroidered in coloured wools a panoramic succession of incidents, with border top and bottom. The colours are but eight, two shades each of green and blue, with yellow, dove-colour, red and brown. This, in brief, is the great Bayeux tapestry. But its threads breathe history; its stitches sing romance; and we who love to touch humorously the spirits of brothers who lived so long ago, find here the matter that humanly unites the Eleventh Century with the Twentieth. The subject is the conquest of England by William the Conqueror in 1066. That is fixed beyond a doubt, so that the precious cloth cannot trail its ends any further back into antiquity than that event. However, even the most insatiable antiquarian of European specialties is smilingly content with such a date. Legend has it that Queen Matilda, the wife of the conqueror, executed the work as an evidence of the devotion and adulation that were his due and her pleasure: There are lovely pictures in the mind of Matilda in the safety of the chambers of the old castle at Caen, directing each day a corps of lovely ladies in the task of their historic embroidery, each one sewing into the fabric her own secret thoughts of lover or husband absent on the great Conqueror’s business. In absence of direct testimony to the contrary, why not let us believe this which comes as near truth as any legend may, and fits the case most pleasantly?

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