HNW - Needle and fiber riddles?

Chris Laning claning at
Mon Mar 26 12:15:04 PST 2001

At 3:14 PM -0500 3/23/01, Liz / Cozit wrote:
>I thought that if I was lucky this group might be able to help me 
>come up with a
>list of riddles that wouldn't sound out of place in King Henry VIII's time.  I
>had a list started last year, with 4 riddles from that period, or 
>w/in a hundred
>years or so... but as usual, I didn't get them on the computer, and 
>they were in
>that notebook I lost last fall :-(

OK, here's what I've got (answers at the end...) Some are more fiber 
related than others.

1. There is a thing
that hangs on the wall
without nail or string.
It was made without hands,
without tools.

2. In spring I am gay, in handsome array:
In summer more clothing I wear;
When colder it grows, I fling off my clothes,
And in winter quite naked appear.

3. How may a man tell a cow in a flock of sheep?

4. What gets wet while it dries?

5. Old Mother Twitchett had but one eye.
And a long tail which she let fly;
And every time she leapt over a gap,
She left a bit of her tail in a trap.

6. I washed my hands with water
which was neither rain nor run;
I dried them with a towel
which was neither wove nor spun.

7. When I was young and beautiful
I wore a blue crown.
When I was old and stiff
They tied a rope round my body,
Then I was cudgelled and beaten
and dragged away from house and home.

8. (This one isn't fiber related at all, and most people find it 
really hard, but it's entirely too much fun!)

A young man and a woman quarreled, and the man, in his anger, exclaimed:
Three words I know to be true,
All which begin with W.

The young woman immediately guessed the answer, and replied:
I too know them,
And three more which begin with M.

>Which reminds me... if anyone has any really good suggestions for historical
>needlework demos (SCA, renn-faire, or any other period that might be 
>to around King Henry's reign) I'd appreciate that too... I've ideas, but still
>trying to improve on what I was doing last year.

OK, for what it's worth, here's some of what I've learned in a couple 
of years of doing needlework demos at a renn faire.

(1) Have something big and flashy propped up against a table or 
something so people can see it from at least 50 feet away. We have a 
big piece of tent stitch (i.e. canvas work or 'needlepoint') about 2 
by 3 feet with flowers on it that is nice and colorful. Even if you 
never actually work on *this* piece, or never finish it, you need it 
so that people can tell from across the road, "Oh, look -- that 
lady's doing embroidery," rather than, "What's that lady doing all 
bent over something in her lap?"

(2) People really like it when you have a piece in a technique that 
they recognize. (In the same way that customers at Faire always love 
to see us do the most ordinary things -- eat, set the table, you name 
it!) A lot of people are intimidated enough about watching someone 
who is way above their skill level that it makes them feel good to 
recognize *something* about what you're doing.
      I like tent stitch for this reason too -- especially since if 
it's a piece at a comfortable scale (ours is about 10 stitches per 
inch) and it's not something you care about too much, you can let 
just about anyone take a few stitches. If they're brave enough, they 
LOVE that!!

(3) If you sit there and stitch by yourself, you won't draw a lot of 
people over to talk or to see what you're doing. You need a 
confederate -- someone who will sit with you, gossip, and keep their 
head and eyes up in order to catch the eyes of passersby, smile and 
nod. This person can *pretend* to do needlework -- i.e. have a frame 
in their lap and take an occasional stitch when things are slow. But 
anyone who is seriously *doing* any needlework has to spend too much 
time with their head down. Personally, I am also terrible at starting 
conversations with strangers, so I always try to find someone to sit 
with me who's better at it.

(4) Collect good stories. The people I know who spin with a drop 
spindle will explain every time the thread breaks that "now you know 
why it's called a drop spindle".  I can't tell you how many times 
I've pointed out to people the area where one of our "knights," one 
long slow boring afternoon, sat down and did ten minutes worth of 
stitching. It's backwards -- stitches slanting the wrong way. People 
think this is hysterical. I'll probably go on telling that story as 
long as we have that piece on the frame! We may get tired of telling 
the same stories, but customers never tire of hearing them, and I 
always keep my ears open for incidents to make new stories out of.

(5) Have stuff that people can pick up and feel. I try to make extra 
pieces of "unfinished" embroidery in the off season and have them in 
my basket; under my supervision, people can handle them and examine 
the stitching. They love that, and they never get to do it in museums.


Answers to riddles: 1. A spiderweb; 2. A tree; 3. By sight (this one 
is actually one of the oldest known riddles in English, it comes from 
the Exeter Book). 4. A towel; 5. A needle and thread; 6. Dew, and the 
sun; 7. Flax; 8. Women Want Wit. Men Much More. (!)
O   "Mistress Christian Ashley" * (Chris Laning <claning at>)
|    gentlewoman to Dorothy, Lady Stafford
+   Guild of St. George, Northern California
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