Friday, July 20, 2007

The Needles Excellency

Readers beware: "the Needles" contains no custom-made praise for our beloved dpns or circulars.

The Needles Excellency is a funny little book first published in 1631. The first one third of the 42 pages carried a long poem titled The Praise of the Needle, written by John Taylor (1580-1653).

The first page looks like this:


See how boring it is already? After a long list of fiber sources, Taylor used a little imagination and described how miserable our life would be without needles--so many types of clothing and home accessories would disappear (gasp!):

And thus without the Needle we may see

We should without our Bibs and Biggins bee

No Shirts or Smockes, our nakednesse to hide

No garments gay, to make us magnifide


No Shadowes, Shapparoones, Caules, Bands, Ruffs, Kuffs

No Kerchiefes, Quayses, Chin-clouts, or Marry-Muffes

No Crof-cloaths, Apron, Hand-kerchiefes, or Falls

No Table-cloathes for Parlours or for Halls

No Sheets, no Towels, Napkins, Pillow-beares

Not any Garment man or woman weares


The impressive list was then followed by many pages of general descriptions of the importance and the glory of needleworks...until Taylor turned to the ladies of the English court and specifically described their virtue, which had supposedly been exemplified by their fine needlework.

The poem for Catherine of Aragon:

and Queen Elizabeth I:

Whether his intention was to persuade women to pick up needles or to identify with the ladies, these poems turned out to be rather irrelevant...

Anyway, what I really liked were the printed patterns that followed the lines. Maybe a woman would not fancy the poem, but would pay for the charts?


Here are a few familiar patterns. Further study is certainly required, but I suppose that these embroidery/lace patterns were later borrowed by knitters? Please correct me if I'm wrong ;-).

My favorite from the book:

I thought this one's got full potential to become a beautiful border on a fine-gauge sweater, so I played with it a bit:

What do you say? The effects are quite different--Norwegian vs Fair Isle?

3 comments:

Connie said...

Interesting review. I miss having access to a university library :(

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