Spreadcloths, reading cloths, altar cloths - who cares what we call them - I can never resist acquiring them, despite (I admit) finding them fundamentally unnecessary. I am easily dazzled. They are what I buy when I run out of decks to buy. I am never quite switched off to the possibility of finding one. Or two. Or maybe a whole set. Because almost anything can be a spreadcloth and I pick them up all over the place; brocade napkins in the sales, velvet cushion covers sans cushion, silk scarves, head scarves (washed of course), outsized handkerchieves, random scraps in need of only a hem. In fact, any fabric that takes my fancy will do, as long as it accommodates a standard-sized spread and – most importantly – does not have a distracting background pattern. All manner of loose odds and ends have been absorbed into my cloth collection over the years and kept in the special drawer set aside for the purpose. Card reading wouldn’t be the same without them. I find that I have more spreadcloths now than I really have use of. But they are so beautiful. Silk, velvet, brocade, vintage leather, suede; I always think that they are an essential part of my travelling tarot kit should I ever sit down to do a reading on a table with lunch leftovers or breadcrumbs, but the fact of the matter is that the more elaborate, opulent and eye-catching my arsenal of spreadcloths becomes, the less likely I am to deign to lay them down on a less than immaculate surface. But I cannot resist them. It’s all part of establishing my impromptu sacred space, a place where the outside world doesn’t intrude, of keeping encroaching clutter at bay.
This subject of interest came to me partly because last week I came across a wonderful piece of fabric as I was on my way to a lunch party at the house of a friend. It was on Saturday and I caught a taxi and realised I could hop out a little earlier and make my way via the flea market and see if there were any goodies, while still not be too late for lunch. I saw a large piece of cotton fabric flapping in the sun, with four baroque engravings stamped on it. I fell in love with it, bartered and took it on my way.
All four engravings – and no, the backgrounds don’t distract me, no idea why - represent a season. They seem to have been taken from 17th Century engravings, (judging by the dress) from France (judging by the titles; Le Printemps, L’été, L’automne, L´hiver.)
As soon as I saw the fabric, I imagined it quartered and made into four distinct reading clothes. Or an altar cloth for each season. Except I don’t have an altar, although it is on my to do list. Then I remembered the great swathes of grey silk I had at the back of the wardrobe waiting to be used and which would be perfect for the lining. I have an old friend who suddenly started suffering from a dust allergy a decade or so ago and he had these beautiful drapes in his house all lined with gorgeous silk which the doctor ordered him to remove; in fact he had to remove all fabrics, all things that might trap dust (I wonder if we’ll laugh at this 300 years hence in the same way we laugh at the idea that noxious smells could cause illness 300 years ago?) So down the drapes came and I kindly offered to relieve him of the burden of metres and metres of silk, different types and in different colours. My seamstress from Dubai - who is male, so probably a seamster - told me that this was very high quality silk and every now and then I remember it and hack off a bit more for spreadcloth lining. I think it may well last forever. And last week I went to pick up my four new spreadcloths he had made for me and I am thoroughly delighted with them.
More delighted in fact than I have been with many recent tarot decks (and each cloth is virtually the size of a standard 9 x 4 Lenormand Grand Tableau).
Thinking of decks, I have to confess, it is getting harder and harder to muster enthusiasm to buy. I begin to speculate on what might be wrong with me, whether I am switching my attention to nice spreadcloths simply because tarot decks – decks in general – are inspiring me so little of late, whether I have reached saturation point. I plan to buy decks and then often don’t get round to it and find that it doesn’t really matter in the great scheme of things anyway. Lying on the beach this summer, I made a mental list in my head of the decks I read well with, the decks I never tire of, decks that have given me consistantly good readings whilst reading for others. When I got home, I gathered all these decks in one place (by the bed) and had the sudden sensation of dust settling, a curious feeling of completion, of not really needing anything else. Up until this point there had been all these disorganised piles of decks, bookshelves with no coherent cataloguing system, forgotten decks, decks whose system I keep vowing to master. All a bit of a mess really. But lay a spreadcloth down, deal out a favourite decks and it really is enough. It all comes in cycles I suppose. You need to feel that nothing is going to surprise you in order to be knocked sideways. But I have my favourite decks and I have them all in favourite bags, but there is no limit to spreadcloths. With a flick of the wrist they herald something special. They set the tone (I have a very psychedelic one for the Hoi Polloi, a rather woozy one for Herzer’s Illuminated Rider Waite Smith), they establish territory, they clash with colours and stoke intuition. So even if new decks are not giving me much pleasure right now, at least my spreadcloths are.