REVIEW OF HILARY MANTEL TRILOGY
What has Hilary Mantel’s trilogy about the life of Thomas Cromwell to do with embroidery? you may ask.
They are award winning books, worth reading and re-reading but they are historical novels.
Among the characters it is the interior voice and conversation of Thomas Cromwell which is strongest. The other men talk, discuss, joke and take action. The women are often silent. But one of the underlying themes of these books is that the women, both grand ladies and not so grand, embroider.
In the first volume Wolf Hall the background is that the wealth of England is based on cloth. Thomas Cromwell has a background dealing in cloth. He can price the clothes on the backs of his contemporaries. He knows about cloth and dyes. His wife trades in her own right. Another underlying theme is embroidery. Ladies create luxury items. They label items with heraldic badges, then unpick those motifs and replace them with another badge when a precious item is given to another.
In the second volume, Bring Up the Bodies, these themes become stronger with courtiers being executed and queens replaced. Motifs of hearts and love knots are sewn onto Queen Jane’s gown in haste. The ‘A’ motifs on the clothes of Queen Anne are unpicked by the ladies in waiting so the clothes can be used again. Queen Jane herself works a border of honeysuckle and acorns. The designs of the bedhangings at Hackney, depicting the heraldry of the unfortunate Earl of Northumberland, are unpicked and the hangings are reused as the property falls into the hands of the king and then is given to Thomas Cromwell. The court looks opulent but nothing is wasted.
Then in the third volume The Mirror and the Light, Thomas Cromwell reflects on past years and actions and realises that these largely silent women, living parallel lives, had been embroidering political messages into these handkerchiefs and soft furnishings. He had recognized some signs, that the Imperial ambassador wore a badge with a marigold and that Meg Douglas had a handkerchief with Howard family motifs, but he had missed many of these secret signs, the non-verbal messages of the ladies of the court, stitched into cushions, hangings, clothes and handkerchiefs.
I was reminded of a piece of Tudor embroidery, known as the Hereford cushion and have been trying to find its present day location. It is worked showing a Tudor rose in one corner, King Henry VIII, and a pomegranate in the next corner, Queen Katherine, with a marigold between, the Lady Mary. In another corner are the oak leaves and acorns.
These are books which give some insight into how embroidery was used in the sixteenth century, and it was not all for decorative purposes.
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Val W Reviews three books she has enjoyed this year.
Mandy’s Magical Christmas
A few weeks ago I saw Mandy Shaw had a new book out. Mandy’s Magical Christmas
It is a charming book with 10 projects, good photography, easy to follow instructions and full size templates.
I have always enjoyed working on Mandy’s projects. These are all quick and easy, a good addition to her other books.
The Sewing Machine Natalie Fergie
One sewing machine. Two families. A story that is told across four generations.
This was a fun story! For the most part, we follow three characters: Fred in 2016, Jean beginning in 1911, and Connie in the 1950s. (A fourth character appears in the last third of the book and really brings everything together.) For each person, we see them at their lowest and how sewing affected their lives.
It brought back memories of my Mum’s Singer sewing machine, which I now wish had been kept.
The Forgotten Seamstress Liz Trenow
It is 1910 and Maria, a talented young girl is employed as a seamstress at Buckingham Palace. An attractive girl she catches the eye of the Prince of Wales.
Can a beautiful quilt discovered many years later reveal the truth about what happened to Maria ?
Do you remember Lynn Edwards, quilter, talking to us? She helped Liz in the writing by sharing her quilting knowledge. Lynn also made a replica of the quilt in this story. See below.
Liz Trenow has written many more books and the all revolve around textiles. They are all superb reads.