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Whatever Floats Your Boat

June 1, 2013

Black and white embroidery of tall ship on a pillow.
© 2013, Dana Aubrey

This pillow has been with me for two-thirds of the twenty-five streets I’ve lived on and a favorite traveling companion for over half my life. It may not look like much but to me it’s a diamond in the rough. This scruffy charmer looking as “well-lived” then as it does now, fell to my feet from an overflowing bench in an antique shop. It sucked me in with its puppy dog eyes and obvious penchant for travel and adventure.

The rose motif is embroidered with yarn thick enough to knit a sweater and sewn on a delicate backing of milk-chocolate colored velour. The other side of the pillow is a funky red and blue Persian pickle pattern printed on corduroy. All together this mongrel mix of crafty style seemed hastily bound.

Who knows how old the pillow actually is but clearly it was on its last thread. Still, I didn’t have the heart to throw it out so I stuffed it in a bag bound for donation. At the last minute I paused to take one last look. I knew better of course but couldn’t resist. With last looks there’s always a risk you’ll be lured back in, which is exactly what it did.

Because I was inexplicably reserved about letting it go, I settled on a compromise: the fabric would stay and the stuffing would go. Carefully I broke open the seam so as to not trigger a fiber-dust storm. At first there appeared to be another lining underneath. Then I noticed the lining had some sort of decoration on it. Then I realized it wasn’t a lining at all but another pillow all together. I couldn’t believe my luck when this beautifully embroidered tall ship came sailing out.

Black and white embroidery of tall ship on a pillow.
© 2013, Dana Aubrey

Typically I associate tall ships with piracy and exploration but this ship is marked with the Maltese cross – an ancient symbol that has religious significance along with magic, sun worship, and regeneration connotations. If only pillows could talk. I was starting to suspect there was nothing neither random nor hastily bound about this pillow. Maybe the ship was a child’s secret talisman or a traveling gypsy’s good-luck charm.

I took the pillow to show Maggie, an upholsterer friend of mine who specializes in refurbishing antique furniture. She sees this sort of thing a lot. People often stretch new fabric over the old to save time and money (much to her chagrin). She wagered that there might be more still and she was right. Behind the ship we discovered a flower print reminiscent of a garden scene. Interesting, I thought. The fower print made a pretty sort of liner but I found it perplexing someone choose to cover up the tall ship – a gorgeous piece of artwork on its own.

Originally I’d written a different story about my old pillow and the coincidence about what I found hidden inside. I was focused on a romantic adventure as seen through a set of agnostic eyes. However, last night I saw something new for the first time and decided to change tack. It’s a religious theory based on pure conjecture but it’s still about adventure none the less.

Maybe I’m reading too much into it and maybe I’m not. The primary currency with which my profession revolves is in the peddling of symbolism combined with the ever-challenging layman perspective that design is ‘just’ decoration. The side effect of which makes me somewhat obsessed with unraveling meaning and pointing out symbolic connections. Design is ‘just’ decoration on a surface, but once you dig a little deeper, design is meaning, it tells a story and it has great influence over our everyday lives.

The rose on the outer pillow, beyond decoration, appears to be a compass rose. The compass rose is a monument originally designed to help determine the nautical course of a vessel. A convenient feature for the ship hidden inside don’t you think? The origin of the term is said to have derived from “star of the sea”. The word rose in compass rose is a reference to the ornate designs of early compasses. This pillow has an image of a literal rose in the center, perhaps a personification of the rose window, a common architectural element of medieval cathedrals.

A compass rose typically has four to thirty-two points on them. This one has eight points represented by the eight green leaves surrounding the central rose. Four of the leaves point to the cardinal directions of north, east, south and west, while the other four point towards the inter-cardinal directions of northeast, southeast, southwest, and northwest.

The eight points may also signify the eight beatitudes of the Christian faith and or the eight knights who formed the Knights Templar. Tall ships marked with the Maltese cross was a symbol used by the Knights Templar to signify a crusade ship. And finally the Maltese cross itself also has eight points, representative of the eight beatitudes (Christian blessings).

The Persian pickles or paisley pattern on the back of the pillow is most often associated with psychedelic hippie culture, however this symbol has religious and philosophical roots too. It can signify life and eternity, which once again is a convenient coincidence for my pillow theory.

If all these design elements are connected to a God, then surely the garden scene at the heart of the nested pillow denotes the biblical Garden of Eden(?).

The backside of a rose embroidery piece and paisly corduroy.Three pillow designs nested into one.
© 2013, Dana Aubrey

Put together we have:

1. The star of the sea
2. Guiding the Knights Templar
3. Bound by the eight beatitudes
4. In a tall ship bearing the Maltese cross
5. Signifying a crusade ship
6. Carrying a promise of eternity in the garden of God(?)

Or not. Whatever floats your boat.

I’m going to leave it at that because all this religious talk is sailing me into uncharted waters. What I do know is that this pillow’s destiny and my original assessment of it has done an about-face. The ship pillow (my favorite layer) is much too pretty to retire or donate. My original assumption of a pillow that was designed on a whim and hastily bound had to have been wrong. There are too many symbolic coincidences.

My final thought is this: it’s a matter of semantics. I see an entanglement of art, love, and religion – three components that are frequently bound throughout all of art history. Religious tall ship or not, I think it’s beautiful and I’m so elated it serendipitously sailed into my agnostic life.

3 Comments leave one →
  1. July 30, 2013 7:23 am

    That ship is incredible, and I like your story. Such a find!

    • July 31, 2013 8:53 am

      Finding that ship was such a treasure (pun intended) – especially so because I discovered it at a time in my life when I have become interested in embroidery. Thank you ever so kindly for taking the time. 🙂

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