Martha was the best weaver any of them had ever known. The material she produced was so variable: rough, smooth, twill, satin, pile. It seemed to cascade from her loom in shimmering heaps. It looked effortless, but they all knew the skill and the sweat that went into her cloth. Maybe she could weave straw into gold, like the miller’s daughter in Rumpelstiltskin. But no-one would be able to imprison or browbeat her.
Eventually, after much indecision, Martha decided that she would teach her craft to others. There were enough places in the classroom for them all, but nonetheless they all struggled up to the front to see better, and to imitate the rhythm and speed of her fingers. Like all the great teachers, she knew how to reassure, challenge and stimulate, and for many years her praise was all they wanted. But some of her weaving techniques were so innovatory and difficult that they flummoxed her pupils. They would never be as good as she was, perhaps. But while she was with them, they could try.
Well, Martha died on the first cold day of autumn, when the frost turned all the summer foliage quite black. Although she had had a long and full life, her pupils were distraught. She had walked down the long road away from them, and they would now never learn the difficult things she could teach them.
After hearing the news, all Martha’s pupils went back to their looms for some comfort. Each of them thought they’d try something new. And then something astonishing happened. Since her death, and without consciously trying to do it, they had somehow mastered those techniques that had been impossible before: random patterns, recurring textures, hearts, diamonds. It had become easy. They arranged to meet the following week, and they all brought along a 12” square of their new work. Those little bits of cloth spoke of vision, of confidence, of creativity. They laid them side by side on the big table, with their varying colours and forms. And then with one accord they sewed them all together.
It didn’t look like a shroud, but that was what it was. The funeral directors agreed that Martha could be wrapped in it, and her tiny body lay enfolded. It could not keep her warm, perhaps: but it would certainly keep her remembered.