Reeled silk for a real princess
Illustration by Benjamin S. Clarke
Thrums from Lullingstone Silk Farm, used to make one of the four identical wedding dresses for Princess Diana when she wedded Prince Charles in 1981.
How cloth transforms us
Princesses and spinning—it’s a theme that comes up a lot in fairy tales. I’m a bit of a fairy-tale nerd (in addition to being a spinning nerd, in case you didn’t know). I have a binder where I’ve collected fairy tales that reference textiles from lots of different traditions (mostly European) and categorized them by meaning.
Clothing as transformation (Cinderella, Red Riding Hood, The Six Swans), cloth as magical object (Vasa Lisa, The Goose Girl, The Juniper Tree), making of cloth—including spinning, of course!—(Sleeping Beauty, The Pretty Spinning Girl, Rumpelstiltskin)…you get the idea.
Clothing as transformation is about how certain clothes can help you transform into someone, or something, else. Cloth as magical object might be a special object (a handkerchief or a doll in many cases) that can help you get through rough times because it is imbued with special powers—perhaps the memory of someone you loved and lost. For the making of cloth, it is the process of making the yarn or cloth that is magical and transformative (doesn’t that resonate!).
And even though I could see some of these thoughts about textiles coming out to play in real life in the recent media coverage of the marriage of Prince William and (now) Princess Catherine, I’ve never really gotten into the real-life-fairy-tale-princess thing (maybe because it seems to focus on the surface and doesn’t delve into the symbolism and metaphor). So, I followed with mild interest this spring as the story of the royal wedding in England was unfolding—reminded of all the pomp and circumstance around Princess Diana’s wedding when I was a kid. Then I remembered a conversation with Judith MacKenzie about a bit of the silk thrums used to make Princess Diana’s wedding dresses (yes, there were four made) in the early 1980s. Judith was given the silk thrums by a friend who had a cousin who worked at Lullingstone Silk Farm that reeled the silk and wove the dresses.
Over the years, Judith has been handing out the thrums to students and watching as it has been blended and spun up into so many different kinds of yarns by her students. When Princess Diana died in 1997, Judith felt the silk was too sad to keep and decided to give it all away—hoping that it would be spun up into happier yarns.
She recently found a few grams that had been tucked away and forgotten and realized that in light of William and Kate’s wedding and through the passage of time, the silk didn’t hold as much sadness. The tale behind the silk is told in the Summer 2011 issue of Spin-Off, which should be arriving in your mailbox any day now (if you’re a subscriber).