Conversations with a Tapestry
I throttle the fireplace to blazing on a cold, foggy morning and settle into my favorite chair before my mother Sara’s tapestry. It’s a six by fourteen foot needlepoint depiction of the Battle of Hastings; an exact copy of excerpts of the famed 11th century Bayeux Tapestry that hangs in France. The re-creation commands my eyes up the length of the wall to view the battle scenes my mother’s diligence and talent created.
Woolen horses rise on their rear legs. Others nose dive toward an embellished thread border. Some are forever poised to gallop across the canvas. Needlepointed swords fly through the air, never finding their targets. Yarn-soldiers thrust, stab, fall, and march, but never complete their mission.
Sara’s legacy is a work of art that took her nearly a decade to sew. It hangs over my fireplace and has been the focus of many family discussions. There is a synchronicity of my buying a home with a vaulted living room ceiling to display a large-scale piece, a home just like hers from years ago.
My husband Chris and I redecorated the room in golds, greens and rusts to accommodate the palette of her creation. Initially, we were both upset about the tapestry’s intrusion, its domination of the room, but after many excursions to find fabrics and check colors—and many arguments between us—we’ve decided the room works.
Why on earth my mother felt moved to re-create in needlepoint the medieval battle scenes remains a mystery to me. But I have vivid memories of her talking animatedly about the project. How she was working with a curator in London who was intimate with the original. How they were researching the right colors of thread.
I remember her dying yarn in tea to copy the look of antique wool so the piece would look authentic.
Tea cups and glass jars were lined up in sequence all over the kitchen. Three-minute tea-stained yarn on the left, graduating all the way up and wrapping around the kitchen to ten-minute tea-stained yarn on the right.
My mother lugged pieces of canvas around with her, held them on her lap and stitched through airplane trips, hospital vigils, conversations with me, and martinis with my father.
Besides her children, the tapestry remained the one achievement of which she felt most proud.
St. Louis University displayed it, proving to my mom and the greater community that she was indeed a bonafide artist.
My mother's Bayeux.
I notice there are two holes in the needlepoint above one of the hunter-green battle horses. It looks as though either moths or silver fish have started to feast upon my mother's work. There are just two small punched-out voids, but it terrifies me.
Her work is being eaten hole by hole. Soon, holes will pock the full face of the design, and I won’t be able to decipher what story the tapestry is trying to tell.
My mother’s brain has holes. Soon, the entire organ will be eaten away, and I won’t have any memory of what she is like.
Queen Mathilda says 'Don't forget to buy your copy of The Dream Stitcher.