Soon after my friend K was given some bad news by her doctors we went out to lunch at one of her favourite restaurants. We were not there to talk of gloomy things, we were there to enjoy the warm atmosphere, marvel at the proximity of the fen drainage dyke to the restaurant (a good four feet ABOVE the restaurant window) and eat very good food. We both ate sparingly, me because my tendency to greed leads to a tendency to weight gain, K because despite her undiminished appetite for all the good things of life her actual ability to eat was reduced by her condition. Nevertheless we tasted as much as possible from the extensive menu. In our conversation I stepped gingerly around the minefield. How to say we could talk about the few months she had left, her wishes for that time and afterwards and the practicalities, even mention the D word, but we didn't have to? So I said very little, just " if ever you need to talk about The Thing I'm here" (or more likely on the end of a phone or e mail). In time we did talk, sorting out the practicalities in preparation for my duty as one of her executors and then she made one unusual request. It wasn't a very surprising request really, given K's life's passions.
K began her working life as a wardrobe mistress for theatre and film and then in her late 30s went to university to read history, her special interest was the English Restoration Period (from 1660). Combining her two interests, theatre and the 17th century K was an expert on the clothing of the period, in particular the fine detail (wigs and mens neck-wear in particular). Her knowledge was amazing, and so was her capacity to rant when a TV or film company got some small but important detail wrong. Then came the day when she knew her life was running out and she asked if I would make her shroud based on a ladies late 17th c chemise.
|Like this but simpler, she said|
We discussed the shape (something simple) and the fabric (it had to be linen from Whaleys where K had bought fabric in her theatre days). Following instructions I rang Whaleys and they were absolutely wonderful. When I told them that I had a very special commission and requested samples for K to choose from they sent them first class post and when I ordered the actual fabric they sent it by express courier.
As I stitched K was in a hospice in Cambridge, surrounded by kind and skilful hospice staff and friends she had collected throughout her life and who in her last months had provided practical and emotional support of every imaginable sort. As I stitched one friend sat beside her bed and another read to her from one of her favourite novels. As I stitched she was cared for and loved, despite having no close family around her. She was not estranged from her family, it is just that they all live in Australia and K had lived in the UK so long that even when she got the worst possible news from her oncologist she chose to stay.
So, this is it, made from off white linen, embroidered at neck and cuffs in pale green linen thread, i-cord ties (something knitted at K's request), simple, long and voluminous . Patern adapted from one of Janet Arnold's book Patterns of Fashion 4
PS, I have one more commission from K. That is to make a knitted wrap. She had planned it so meticulously, in shades of green, a pattern inspired by lichen growing on a tree trunk and all beautifully charted, yarn bought but never quite began. A large hat box containing the yarn sits by my favourite crafting space, I shall cast on very soon