Medieval Mash-Up #6: The Comb Symbol

The tapestry below, from the collection of the Nasjonalmuseet in Oslo (full record here), was woven in 1739. There are so many details to study. The animal border is my favorite part.

If you look throughout the background, there are many rectangles with this pattern in it–34!

Does it have a particular meaning? I couldn’t puzzle it out with books I have, so I asked Annemor Sundbø. She has a whole section on symbols in her book, Invisible Threads in Knitting (2007). She wrote a thoughtful response, which I translate here:

I thought of a possible explanation. Comb (“kam” or “cami”) means a spiritual being, in that something contains the divine or is of a divine nature (in Shinto religion). The word is contained in kamisol or camisol, the Southern European word for nightshirt. For example, we use the word bakkekam for an ås. Ås is the Old Norse word for a god, or something that contains the divine. So my hypothesis is that the “combs” indicate that God is present and the weaving is holy.

Given that Mary and the Wise Men are present, this makes sense. But then, my friend Kala Exworthy looked at it and said in a snap, “It’s a heddle!”

I added my version to the “Medieval Mash-up.”


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