Book Launch of "A Single Thread" at Winchester Cathedral
written by Dr Birgitta Huse, 12.09.2019
Around 300 women and men gathered in the quire of Winchester Cathedral. It was a bit like in the 1930s when the Broderers presented their newly made cushions and kneelers in front of the high altar and the great screen. The difference on 9th September 2019 was that instead of new cushions, a new book was presented to the public. After a warm welcome by Catherine Ogle, Dean of Winchester, the author Tracy Chevalier talked with Alison Finch from the BBC about her new novel A Single Thread, out in UK just four days before. This book launch certainly was a very special and exclusive one as it took place in the most prominent location where the story about the life of a single working woman around 1932 is set. (More about the book itself in my review here).
Chevalier, dressed in a 1930s-style tea dress, had been looking “to reflect what the heroine Violet Speedwell might wear,” a she says on her homepage. She went up some steps of the pulpit several times during the evening in order to be seen by everyone when reading paragraphs from her novel. During the evening we got to know from Chevalier that she has always been fascinated by cathedrals and found Winchester cathedral especially interesting because of the many stories behind the huge variety of wonderful objects from several centuries that are native to it. Chevalier compared the daily business in the cathedral with the one of a department store as so many things have to be done in order to be able to receive the many visitors and conduct all the different events. From cleaning, laying out the service leaflets and offering guided tours for example, to name just very few, the daily duties nowadays are taken care of by around 800 volunteers. Asked about why she had chosen to focus on women embroidering as volunteers for the cathedral, Chevalier explained that a huge percentage of the objects in the cathedral as well as the building itself were designed and made by men. She wanted to call to attention the important embroidery design and needlework that was exclusively done by women. These women did not embroider “just flowers” as one would maybe expect, Chevalier said. Louisa Pesel, the leader of the group of broderers nearly one century ago, designed cushions and kneelers representing special historical themes. Women clearly had and have their place in forming our environment and society, though their contribution to it is still partially undervalued. Chevalier explained that while some things had changed since the 1930s, others did not change much during the last seven decades. Women would still feel intimidated to have a long walk on their own through nature. One of the unique moments during this book launch was when a woman in the audience raised her arm. Dressed in short trousers and walking boots she happily told us that she had just finished such a long walk, her backpack and tent being stored right outside of the Quire, and that she would recommend to walk on one’s own to everyone.
After Chevalier had answered several questions from the audience, most people present went on to get their copies signed by the bestselling author of A Girl with a Pearl Earring. The queue was enormous - but who cares if you also have the very unique opportunity to have a drink standing on wonderful historic red tiles with white designs in front of the Lady’s Chapel between St Swithun, two chantry chapels and golden shining icons? For me, it was exactly as Dean Catherine Ogle had said at the beginning of the book launch: The wealth of beauty of the cathedral is really uplifting.