St. Bridget's Cloak Altar Cloth.
The inspiration for this commission for a cloth to cover a unique willow altar, came, after much research into Willow trees, Ireland, The Celts and St. Bridget, from the legend of St. Bridget’s Cloak. I was delighted to have learnt of this story, in which Bridget, requesting land to build a monastery, is laughingly told by the King of Leinster that she can have as much land as her mantel would cover! Whereupon, she threw down her cloak, which started to grow, until it spread over the entire land. The King gave in, and she built the monastery. I loved the imagery of this story, and on reading it my idea for the project was immediate.....the altar cloth would be her cloak.......
Bridget’s Mantle, casually thrown over the willow tree stump, as she might have done herself, wanting to sit and rest awhile..... I searched far and wide in the fabric shops of Paris’ Marché St. Pierre to find the right material, and eventually settled on a dark green pure wool fabric, which seemed fitting for her mantle, as she was said to have woven it herself, and indeed taught others to weave. Embroidered along the edge of the cloak, as in an altar cloth border, are the flowers to which she is linked: white Poppy Anemones, (Anemone Coronaria) also know as the ‘Lilies of the Field’ (which grow wild in Israel!) golden yellow Dandelions, and tiny Snowdrops, which herald the coming of Spring, and appear around the time of her feast day on February 2nd, which is also the Celtic Festival of Imbolc...... And so, the Irish colours of Green, White and Gold are represented in the piece.
The first stage in the creation of the altar cloth was to paint flower and leaf shapes onto the material with fabric paints. Then leaf shapes cut from different coloured silk fabrics were appliquéd using Bondaweb and stitched over to hold them fast. More machine stitching was used to represent leaves, grasses and flowers, giving a random and chaotic effect as you would find in a border of wild flowers along an Irish hedgerow. Finally, I hand stitched more grasses and used French knots for the snowdrops, buds, and flying seeds...... The cloak was then lined and hand stitched into place. Secreted inside the lining, on the cotton backing cloth of the flower border are written these words:
St. Bridget’s Cloak Altar Cloth made for Michael Scullion by Rosemary Cassidy Buswell, France, November 2012.
I have also made a brooch to be pinned onto the cloak, in the form of a St. Bridget’s Cross. Twelve felt ‘straws’ were wound with copper wire, onto which I threaded beads in the colour of the flowers. These were then made into the cross, and secured with beaded wire to a kilt pin. This was inspired by the Celtic brooches known as ‘Annular Fibular’ with which ancient cloaks were fastened.