No Mortal Loom

No Mortal Loom

I haven’t blogged much in the last month or so: the book project is soaking up my time and energy, but I’m still here and much plotting is going on in the background, plus the next instalment of A-Z of pattern adaptation and more vintage pattern highlights are coming soon!

Even when your nose is to the grindstone you can still find inspiration which you mentally file to follow up at a later date, and I tend to take my inspiration where I can find it in these busy days … it’s great when something unexpected finds you.

I came across the book ‘Sam Pig Goes to the Seaside’ (written by Alison Uttley)┬áthe other day which I’ve kept since I was an introverted kid. I have to admit I’ve never made it through ‘Remembrance of Things Past’ but that doesn’t stop me happily flinging about the phrase ‘Proustian rush’. As a rule I try not to give in to nostalgia but the stories, A.E. Kennedy’s illustrations and even the smell of the paper triggered something off and swallowed me whole. I must have spent a lot of time poring over these pages when I was my son’s age, lost in Sam Pig’s world and filling in the empty spaces at the edges of the pictures with an imaginary bucolic world.

A series of Sam Pig books pre-date this one, most published from 1940-1950, then this later one published in 1960 when Uttley was in her 70s. The language beautifully conjures up a wild, almost pagan rural idyll inhabited by Sam and his sister Ann, where animals are the conduit to another world and whose simple, instinctive knowledge of the mystical but natural order of things outweighs that of human civilisation and intelligence.

The reason I’m sharing it here is because I came across a passage where Sam trades what he thinks are ordinary, tatty items with a rag and bone man. When the trade is complete the treasures are described through the man’s eyes:

“He had a scarf made of fine cobwebs, such as a lady might wear if it were cleaned and dyed, for no mortal loom had woven it. He had a pair of little trousers with holes like lace, darned by Ann with curious stitchery and patched with colours of the woodland …”

Sam receives a vest with holes in it which “Ann washed and scrubbed and then darned with fine pig-stitches, which made the lacy design of leaves and flowers and cobwebs the beggar had admired so much.”

Such a beautiful description – I’m thinking an attempt to re-create Ann Pig’s curious pig-stitches could be a fine project in the making …

P.S. Alison Uttley’s own story is something of a sad tale: apparently she was a Science & Physics graduate who never lost her love of the countryside where she was brought up. Sadly her motivation to start writing childrens’ books to support herself and her son came after her husband – a traumatised WWI survivor – committed suicide in 1930. She died in 1976 at the age of 91 … her son committed suicide two years later.

Although this is a much later book there’s a feeling of the pre-war halcyon Edwardian summers (which came to be viewed with a heightened nostalgia post-war of course) about these stories, and I think they might just be a wistful escape into the endless and cyclical natural world, where the rag and bone man takes comfort from an ancient bottle which can leave people “smiling and well, cured of their heart sickness, filled with a loving kindness which Brock the Badger had left in this old bottle.” What a panacea.

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