A few years ago, I read an article by Augusta Strand, a conservator at Uppsala University in Sweden, about a medieval book that had been mended with silk thread. Tears and holes that had formed when the parchment was made in the fifteenth century had actually been embroidered with colorful silk. Blemish became beauty. The conservators at the University’s Carolina Rediviva Library had been asked to conserve that mending. There’s so much that I love about the story of this book.
Text and Textile
Most simply, it’s a brilliant fusion of text and textile. Gratifying for one who spends her days working on the many facets of text about textiles. Cloth tells a story, and in this medieval book, cloth becomes the story.
Another curious aspect to the mending is the color of the silk. Ms. Strand writes about color analysis on the black dye because those threads needed conserving the most—iron sulfate and tannin (perhaps of oak apple and sumac leaves)—but she makes no mention of the other colors. What elements made the pink and purple? From the photographs they almost look fresh, not several hundred years old.
On the Mend
As I was growing up, there was always a threaded needle tucked in the bottom of a certain kitchen window. It struck me as a kind of reminder that repair was inevitable. I lived in a house of makers, and where there is making, there is mending. I’ve always valued the art of patching things up as much more honorable than tossing out. Mending lost its way for a long time, but I think it’s making a comeback. Maybe the slow and deliberate attention of mending can be a panacea, maybe even a bit of grace, for the crazy-fast and disposable world most of us travel in.
Earlier this week my favorite pair of wool socks revealed a small hole in the bottom of the foot. This weekend, I will thread a darning needle and weave the threads of repair as I have done so often. But maybe this time I’ll think of the parchment pages of that medieval book and rather than my usual plainweave fix, I’ll embellish, just a little. Maybe I’ll use silk. Maybe a dash of purple.
photos courtesy of the Carolina Rediviva, Uppsala University Library.