“Here in New York tonight – the World Embroidery Final!” the crowd doth cheer and wave their arms as every man, woman and child around the world are glued to their TV screens, watching intently to something, anything else.
“In the blue corner, all the way from Glasgow Scotland: Laura Jackson-Harley!” Louder now the crowd cheered, dazzled by her natural beauty and modest stance. The poster girl for the competition; all the girls wanted to be her, all the boys wanted to be with her. Such a quiet, delicate creature, mousey blonde hair, all the angles in her face mathematically correct, equating to physical benevolence nobody could fault what they saw. A prodigy: Such grace, such composure, such deft dexterous displays of skill; she was the darling princess of the competition, and in her first year too. She delighted reporters for her loquacious interview style leading one publication to write the following: “Elegance, poise and a fun spirit, endearing nature, naturally captivating, enchanting, a purely original delight transcending time itself. When she works and when she speaks you cannot help but be lost in all she does.” This years competition could not have two more opposing personalities.
“In the red corner, from Manchester England: Hayley Just!” Not so much love for this most decorated of contestants. Jealous of Laura’s rise to fame and all the plaudits she was getting not just for her skill with a needle but for her entire self was burning an acid hole in Hayley’s stomach akin to a digestive biscuit being bitten by a hungry vegetarian shark desperate for sustenance. Her actions and public comments on social media have led to tabloids reporting her to be a “Bitter, burnt out old woman with not an original idea left to present leaves her at war with the world of craft.” Such comments could not assuage the feeling of the lay person (and indeed of many professionals) that this once skilled woman was still at the top of the pile, even though she was not at the top of her game.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the rules for the final: 3 hours. One piece of original artistic work. The one showing most skill and technique as well as beauty walks away with the crown. There can only be one winner. Laura, Hayley if you will assume starting positions…”
The crowd was silent, rapt with anticipation…
“On your marks…”
The tension in the arena was palpable…
Someone in the audience fainted…
The roar that greeted the emcee’s words deafened all nearby mice, but the most aurally staunch passed on the tale to their children, and they to their children, until the era was known in rodent history as The Great Deafening.
The women set to work, Laura quietly slipping her thread through the eye of the needle, Hayley snarling and glaring over towards her opponent at every opportunity. Laura was so involved in her work, concentration crackling all around her like electricity, she couldn’t even sense her rival. Hayley was her in this competition again to prove something to the world. For years she was the greatest embroider in the world. Rich sultans, kings, queens, overpaid footballers all hired her to intricately monogram their towels, bean bags, carpets, curtains, and pets. Rumours still abound that David Beckham had Hayley monogram a goldfish for his wife. Her skills and beauty were fading with time, her bitterness and hatred for a new youthful, revolutionary approach coming to the fore. This she felt was her last chance of glory, to show the world what she still was and could still be, for the greatest of their art will be immortalised in their achievements. Spurred on by this affirmation of her intent, she cackled wildly to herself and set to work.
Laura by contrast was quietly stitching away, the needle and thread appearing in and out of the fabric like a happy dolphin bobbing in the ocean, perhaps playing with an equally happy penguin. Laura worked as though she had nothing to prove, silent, relaxed, she did this because this is what she wanted to do. The fame and fortune were secondary to the satisfaction of a completed piece of work. She never intended to be a finalist, she did it because she wanted to do it, because her heart told her that is what she must do, she should do, and while she was weaving the colours of threads together, her fingers dancing over the hessian like sprite ash from a firework, she felt complete. Nothing else mattered. She loved her work, and her work loved her.
An hour passed, they were a third of the way through their work. Both of them completely lost, the roar of the crowd subdued to whispered murmurs of conversation. These were two women at the top of their profession: it was a joy to watch. Hypnotic, magnificent, exceptional: mere superlatives cannot adequately describe the way their fingers moved. Laura caught her finger during a buttonhole stitch, she cried out, dropped her frame and sucked the slow trickle of blood from her finger. The crowd gasped, Hayley let out a wheeze of laughter and was straight back to her work. There was something fierce in her eyes, feverish, demented desire. Something had spurred her, something kicked her on. Was it the pain of her opponent, or merely the success of a technique she had been working on? Mayhaps the layperson will never not ever know. Laura cleaned her finger, donned a thimble depicting a cat eating a block of cheddar, and continued with her work.
“Dearest ladies…you have one hour remaining. Everyone here can see your endeavour, putting your heart and soul into every stitch, every line. Not one here could probably choose between you. Truly,
I cannot now begin to imagine the task facing our judges. If I’ve ever been sure of anything, I truly am most certain that I
am thankful not to be the one having to pick a winner. The devastation of
falling at this hurdle after coming so close is not something that I believe I have the strength to do,
for attempting to live with myself afterwards would be a nigh on impossibility. Judges, it’s all up to
Nobody had ever heard a speech from an emcee quite so cryptic and laden with meaning. The audience analysed his speech from top to bottom, looking for something, anything that could have driven him to be so enamoured with his voice to exude such an apocryphal message to someone external perhaps looking in.
The contestants seemed to be neck and neck now, working at breakneck speed to get their pieces finished; truly the audience was in no doubt that these two finished collections of intertwined threads would be the most majestic masterpieces.
From the blue corner, Laura’s corner, something strange began to happen. The whole complexion of the air and the aura around the arena shifted. As if approaching event horizon of a black hole, time seemed to stop and stretch, collecting her, pulled by some force. Laura had her needle in the air, tracing patterns and runes unseen, after every stitch there was a slow ticking of time peeling away, fading from view, some unknown history drawn to her frame into which she pulled all of this energy. After an absence, the clocks moved. Seconds returned. Every
This was special. Something had happened here today. This day would be forever woven into the skin of every witness, as if touched and branded by a deity, they had witnessed a miracle.
After an absence of sound and time that seemed to drag on for eternity, the voice from the emcee came, dripping with awe:
“That ladies, is time. Lay down your needles and thimbles and come in to me.”
They stood together in unison as if one was bound to the other – and in the annals of history they will forever be – and made their way to the centre of the stage, each clasping their finished work, clutching it dearly, protecting it from prying eyes until the big reveal, like a mother would protect her child from a stranger until she realised that the stranger was there to help.
“Hayley as champion, you decide who reveals first.”
“Emcee, as champion I would like to show mine first.” Her logic was that her work was so divine, so absolutely perfect that anything next to it would seem pathetic and listless, an insult to not just embroidery itself, but to the very world and everything that holds it together. One triumphant flourish later and her frame was revealed to the audience. Immediately, without hesitation they stood and applauded. They did not approve of the content, and were insulted, but the sheer skill and technique on display was something that nobody had ever expected to see, and not least from a woman whose skills and talents were supposedly on the wane. She cackled maniacally with arms outstretched while Hayley stood there tentatively, a meek smile etched onto her face, a smile of someone gracious enough to know they have been bested by the better opponent. Her resolve in the face of such an insulting tapestry was endearing her to the crowd more and more.
Haykey’s piece depicted a man modelled on a not too recently deceased and outlandishly garbed once black now white singer riding atop the most magnificent motorbike. This was in direct reference to, and making a mockery of Laura’s double barrelled surname. The skill involved was incredible however. The singer looked as though you could actually hear him singing now, his skin and features lifelike, his eyes expressionless and deep; the motorbike gleamed and seemed to growl menacingly, subtly hinting at all the power one would expect from such a marvel of engineering.
“Now then…Lauraaaa,” she was now making no secret of her contempt for her much younger, much prettier, much loved rival as she hissed each and every word as though her teeth were fangs and her saliva a potent poison “let’s see what you did!”
With a silence unbecoming her, Laura showed what she had been working on. There was no applause. There were no gasps of astonishment. Not at first anyway. No one could quite comprehend what they were seeing. This was, quite simply, the most perfect example of someone’s love and personality in visible form. It showed a young girl at the end of a path lined with exquisite red, white and pink roses. The girl was standing to show her back, a cat held in her right arm, her left arm extended upwards into the sky as a wave. In the sky, flying off towards a glistening setting sun was a man, at least it looked like a man. It could be a plane, woven into the hessian with iron filings, a man of iron, an airplane, a pagan angel, depending on your angle. The sun at the end of the path was shining fierce and warm and welcoming, offering all promises of riches. The little girl looked also as if she could be waving at the sun in greeting, the sun announcing itself at the end of the path, glittering its promises of everything. The girl was visibly warmed, ready to take her steps towards her bright future where her iron man/airplane in the sky would be waiting when she was ready. If anyone in the auditorium was left unmoved, it was because they had likely joined that iron man. The very fabric of her life had been woven; time and medium had become one, bound by thread for eternity. No applause, no mortal words, no street party could have paid justice to the beauty on the tapestry. Nothing could adequately express what one felt when looking upon the intricate lines.
The competition was over. Laura had won. There was an unspoken, unanimous decision. In the face of such beauty, only breathless silence sufficed. To this day, no one speaks of the tapestry, other than urging others to look upon it for themselves. Laura went her way weaving across the world, teaching others her craft.
Hayley was never seen or heard of again. Nobody even remembers what she looks like.
© Kris Blackburn 02/05/14