Whether she embroidered the blouse when it was already made or covered the fabric in flowers before it became the blouse, I will never know. Whether she traced the pattern first onto the fabric by hand or used a ready-made one designed by someone else and ironed on to follow with her stitches, I will never know.
My mother wore the blouse when she was a young woman full of hope and confidence. She wore it in the warmer weather or on colder days under a cardigan. Tulip shaped, the blouse came in at the waist and held the texture of many wavering stitches throughout. In reds and yellows and greens, a swirling pattern that evoked the majesty of medieval palaces and the simplicity of the countryside. The majesty of flowers.
The one item of clothing she kept from her younger days, this blouse travelled across the sea from the Netherlands to Australia and wound up in the back of her wardrobe where my older sister in later years found and squirrelled it away, for fear of moths eating into the fine stitches. Moths or whatever other thread eating creatures might invade this once glorious blouse
For a long time my sister had plans to resurrect the blouse, to bring it back to life, fit for purpose, but when she looked closely, she saw the tears in the fabric, the frayed edges along the central seams, were too far gone to turn it into a blouse once more. She would need to cut away too much fabric before the blouse could fit even a small child, if it was to stay as it was intended.
She decided instead to cut out panels of the embroidered material and surround them in gold embossed picture frames as a memento of our mother.
She had enough for several such pictures and distributed them among those siblings who were prepared to pay the cost of the framing.
It seems a strange piece of artwork to hang from my wall. Like a relic of the cloth Veronica used when she approached Jesus on his way to crucifixion. Veronica took her white shawl and wiped the sweat and blood off Jesus’s brow and the image of his torn and weary face was imprinted there for evermore. The famed shroud of Turin.
When I was a child I loved this story. I can’t say why now. It has lost its thrill to intrigue me. I doubt the authenticity of the actual shroud hanging somewhere in Italy, but the idea of miracles stays with me, muted.
My mother believed in miracles. My mother believed that bad could be made good, miraculously. Through prayer, through the intervention of the saints.
I shared this belief as a child. The hopeful optimism that bad things could become good in an instant because God or the saints wanted it so.
I have no truck with miracles anymore, though I have great respect for mystery. For the unfathomable events that happen every day, the rich complexity of them all. If we explore these mysteries for a long time, they might become clearer to us, but we might never in our lifetimes get to the bottom of the whys and how.
The stuff of evolution, the stuff of why we’re here, the stuff of whether we human beings are alone in the universe or whether there are others whom we can anthropomorphise into beings like us, including plants and animals, or whether we are as unique as we like to think we are.
The mystery of being.