Faced with the test of threading a sewing machine, in ninth-grade Home Ec, I still remember my fear. I knew the thread’s path through the various guides and levers but dreaded the last passage—poking it through the slit eye of that vertical exclamation point, the needle. So much emotion focused on such a small act. But was it small? Threading a needle, darning a sock, finessing a French braid or playing cat’s cradle, mastering scout’s and sailor’s knots, learning to knit, sew, and smock … All these little tests and games, these early encounters with hair, string, and skein, are early exercises of the hand-eye coordination that makes us human. For some, the thread unspools into the labyrinth of art.
Loomed, woven, and knotted, yarns of wool, silk, camelhair, and cotton make up some of the most spectacular works of art in Western and Eastern history. Look back 500 years and the tapestry masterpieces of Gobelins, in France, have their match in the magisterial rugs of Safavid Persia and Mughal India. That such works have traditionally been the product of female fingers, a motor refinement quick and quiet, just adds to their grandeur. They are largely, phenomenally, anonymous, and transcend signature.