A TEXT ON TEXTILES

What’s new this month? The lockdown continues, many people work at home in their pyjamas; clothing shops close or are sold to online retailers, fashion sales are down.

Clothes will never go out of fashion though, they’ve been part of human life since we lived alongside the Neanderthals. Much creative imagination and hard slog has gone into preparing, spinning, weaving, dyeing and sewing body coverings using threads collected from animals, plants or insects and, more recently, synthesised by scientists. 

The Bible tells us not give too much thought to clothes.  ‘Consider the lilies of the field’ the text goes ‘they toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.’ 

More than 1000 years after this text was written a textile was discovered in a settlement on the edge of Llangors Lake. Made of finely woven linen with silk embroidery, it shows how much toil went into clothing high status individuals in the 10th century. https://museum.wales/articles/2007-05-03/The-Llan-gors-textile-an-early-medieval-masterpiece/ Today, more than 1000 years later, designing and making clothes is a vast industry that Solomon could never have imagined. 

Humans don’t only cover themselves to keep warm, the clothes we wear also express our individuality, social connections and pretensions and King Solomon’s robes would have been designed to promote his status.

As I wondered if humans were the only animals which construct body coverings the small streams of my childhood came rushing into my memory. Caddis fly larvae walked on the stream beds in coverings made of small stones or bits of vegetation woven together with silk. These coverings are constructed for protection and camouflage rather than display but the insects certainly toil and spin to make them.

Here are two images of caddis fly larvae from the web site https://lifeinfreshwater.net/caddisfly-larvae/ . Thank you Jan Hamrsky for permission to use these wonderful photographs. 

Case-building caddisfly larva (Trichoptera)

 https://lifeinfreshwater.net/caddisfly-larvae/ 

Case-building caddisfly larva (Trichoptera)

 https://lifeinfreshwater.net/caddisfly-larvae/ 

The caddis larvae cocoon themselves in their coverings as they pupate, emerging as winged insects to mate and lay eggs on plants at the water’s edge. When the eggs hatch the larvae fall into the water.

These insects are found almost everywhere and I wondered if King Solomon would have remembered caddis larvae as part of his childhood experiences of the wonders of the world. Might he have recognised his kinship with these extraordinary insects.  Unlikely, I thought, he’d probably have been too busy trying to transform his naked body into a symbol of power and glory with the most fabulous clothes that could be woven in his kingdom. 

That’s enough of Solomon, it’s time now for a caddis fly to give her testimony.

The Caddis Fly’s Testament 
 
In the beginning was the fall.
I plunged into the remorseless 
swirling water and knew at once
I was perilously naked. 
I swathed my infant self with silk 
and fragments from the river bed.
 
I wove a fitting cloak as I grew fat 
and then, shrouded in secrecy,
my body was transfigured. 
I rose on heavenly wings
to mark the tangled weeds
with eggs before I fall again.
 
In the fish’s belly I become
part of its flesh and of the dung
that feeds the golden iris
rising from the muddy shore,
its seeds poised to testify:
in the beginning is the fall.

Anne Bryan