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A Single Thread by Tracy Chevalier

Article by Swirl and Thread ©.
Posted in | .

‘Courage can be found in the unlikeliest of places’ 

A Single Thread is the latest novel from international bestselling author, Tracy Chevalier. Described as ‘warm, vivid and beautifully orchestrated’, it is published with The Borough Press.

It’s 1932 and Violet Speedwell, now in her late thirties, is considered a ‘surplus woman’, a very unappealing title for the women who remained single following the death of so many of the male population during the First World War. Now considered a spinster and living in the family home in Southampton with her aging and cantankerous mother, Violet is determined to have courage and to bravely follow her own path. So, in a move considered shocking by many, Violet moves to Winchester and takes a room in a boarding house for women. Her existing employer in Southampton have offices in Winchester, so they facilitate a transfer on her behalf. Violet is unprepared for the shock of fending for herself and soon comes to realise how very dependent she had been on her mother’s support. Money was never something she had plenty of but she always had enough for a little treat on occasion. Now on an extremely tight budget, Violet is forced to change both her dining and social habits.

On one of her journeys of discovery in Winchester, she takes a trip to the Winchester Cathedral to find a ceremony taking place, The Presentation of Embroideries. Violet is in awe of some of the work on display and after some time, she makes the bold decision to join a group of local women, known as the broderers. These women have regular embroidery meet-ups designing kneelers, cushions and more for the cathedral. It is here that Violet meets the gregarious and infectious Louisa Pesel.

‘In 1920 Pesel was elected the first President of the Embroiderers’ Guild of England. She moved to Winchester, Hampshire, in 1932 where she started work at Winchester Cathedral. She was responsible for training a team to produce the Winchester cathedral embroideries, which included 360 kneelers, 62 stall cushions and 96 alms bags. In 1934, Queen Mary went to Winchester Cathedral for a personal viewing of the embroideries. Four years later Pesel was appointed Mistress of Broiderers of Winchester Cathedral. Her work at the Cathedral is regarded as a lasting testimony to her considerable influence on cathedral and church embroideries. The collection was still in use at the beginning of the twenty-first century.’ – via The Textile Research Centre

A Single Thread brings the lives of Louisa Pesel and her broderers to life as they spend hours working on their pieces. In their company Violet finds solace and friendship and learns how to cope as an independent woman. She thrives under the guidance of Louisa and makes very unlikely friendships with women she would have possibly scorned in her past life.

Violet longs for male companionship, which she does find among the bell-ringing community of the cathedral but not quite in the manner in which she had hoped for. Along the way Violet encounters many obstacles of both a family and more personal nature, but Violet is strong and her pure determination and courage to survive on her own two feet drives her forward every single day. There was one small incident in the book in relation to Violet that didn’t quite fit the style of the story for me but it certainly did not take from my overall reading experience.

A Single Thread is very much a meandering, gentle read filled with incredibly in-depth descriptions of embroidery and bell-ringing. Tracy Chevalier’s passion for these women is clear and the amount of research that must have been done in accumulating all her facts is very obvious from the detailed portrayal of this period of change. Those in-between war years was a time of great flux for all and for women their roles changed dramatically as each decade passed. Violet Speedwell is a woman very much ahead of her time, with her modern attitudes and her strive to survive as a strong independent woman.

A Single Thread is a fascinating tale bringing history to life through it’s depiction of the lives of these women. It is a charming and pleasant read, the perfect read for all with an interest in crafting, history…and bell-ringing of course!

(c) Swirl and Thread

Order your copy online here.