The Blind Seamstress III

completing my fairytale for creative people


‘Then let us begin,’ the Rose Lady said and she pulled the dress apart. The sound of each stitch ripping ran inside the Blind Seamstress’s ear like cold poison. Stitches unravelled and fabric rent. It seemed to her that she was servant-of-clay with its fired skin crazed and broken. Pain trod her gut like hunger.

Yet like hunger, it pushed her on. No detail of pleats or fastenings but her need made her swallow and chew the understanding of it.

‘You must be humble,’ said the Rose Lady, ‘and ask others to see the faults for you. There will be many – they will be as grit in your bread and as salt in your coffee.’

Together they unpicked, and made patterns so numerous that rocks had to hold down their flutterings. Toiles and trials, miniatures and mock-ups filled the house of the Blind Seamstress in a soft forest.

At last, the Rose Lady bade her lay her needle down.

‘This, she said, ‘this we will take to market.’

The Blind Seamstress felt the dress lying across her wrists. Not a bead nor a silk thread broke its smooth surface. Like the desert breeze with neither scent of water or palm tree.

‘But it is too plain, too simple. No-one will want so humble a thing. I only made it to please myself.’

Trust me – and most of all, trust your own soul.’

The Blind Seamstress made her way to the market and took her usual quiet corner. Strong fingers clasped her wrist and pulled her away. With a push and a leap, she stood on a high place, the base of an ancient column.

‘I must go and you must stay,’ the Rose Lady said.

‘Have faith.’


The Blind Seamstress held out her dress and waited. She smelled camels and donkeys passing, heard the tellers of tales and sellers of water call out in the distance – but close by, the breath of many  encircled her. The tinkling of gold coins, rustle of cloth and scent of flower oils told her they were mostly women.

Words of wonder and delight bubbled up to her ears. Fingers tugged gently at the dress and lips sighed wishes that they might have such a dream of loveliness.

Then by-and-by came a merchant. Rings banded his plump hands and satin trimmed his sleeves. Tiny sandalled feet followed him, their sound no heavier than summer rain.

‘I am Hassan of the Ostrich Feathers – and my beloved daughter desires a gown from you.’

She knew he was a rich merchant fallen on hard times when his ship was lost at sea. Of his only daughter, she had heard hushed-up whispers of misfortune and ill-favoured looks.

A merry voice spoke.

‘I am to be married to my heart’s blessing – it would be an honour to wear such raiment. But I fear it will not fit me – can you alter it to suit?’

The Blind Seamstress heard the hope threaded through her words and considered.

The Merchant pulled off his rings and laid them fat and warm and heavy in her hand.

‘I give you the last that I have. Make the joy of old age happy.’

‘I must know what size and shape she is.’

He helped her down and she measured the young woman. It would take hours of work to fit someone so slight. Could she do it? Could she clothe a papyrus reed and make it into a lotus?

‘I will do my best, Hassan of the Ostrich Feathers – for your daughter’s sake.’


It was weary, fiddling work but she completed the gown and sent it. More work came her way. It seemed every quiet girl and shy woman in the City wanted a dress to fit. Hopeful buyers flocked around her little home. She clothed women tall like egrets, or plump and full-breasted as pigeons, or  dainty as quail.

To her, they were a delight. Each curve she could flatter, each skin she could wrap in voluptuous cloth, each spirit she could grow was a pleasure.

The best were the twisted ones who came by night. They crept to her window and pleaded for help. She called upon the Rose Lady for counsel and thought often fractured her sleep The labour was hard and rarely paid . But then their footsteps walking boldly by daylight made a rhythm of deep contentment for her heart to dance to.

Weeks went past. The Merchant returned.

‘You have made my daughter more lovely than I believed possible,’ he said. ‘There is nothing I could give you to repay that debt. But still – my ship came back unharmed and I would give you a token. Here is a pearl of great price – may you be blessed all the days of your life.’

She took the smooth and rounded treasure in her work-worn hand. She thought for a moment.


‘Indeed, I am.’

The Blind Seamstress II

More in the story begun last week.

The blind seamstress drifted away along the usual streets with the smell of charcoal behind and hammering of brass ahead to guide her. Her head drooped like a parched lily bloom. Her sandals pattered on palm fronds and sank in silence on carpets left outside coffee houses.

Two other feet did the same. Leather soles touched down behind her with a tread too light to raise the dust. A woman followed her, of that she was certain.

She let the night air bring her clues. This woman wore Attar of Roses and bangles tinkled on her wrists. Coins tapped against each other on her headscarf, and ankle chains jingled with the laughter of riches.

If she tilted her head, the swish of fine silks swept in, no noisier than the river whispered.

And what did it whisper to her? That she should settle for a life of hefting watermelons and slicing them for passers-by. That the scent of tangerines and lemon rind would be the perfume of forgetting. That contentment would be best found in letting some dreams drift away on the stream.

She went on towards the sweet damp of the riverside and her little home.

‘Stay,’ a voice called. A voice of refinement and calm. A voice used to its owner’s worth.

The blind seamstress clasped the friendly ragged trunk of a palm. Something so steady must give her courage.

That a Sighted One should speak to her on the mud banks!

‘Stay – and talk to me of this dress,’ the Rose Lady said.

The light breath of the river ruffled something in the Rose Lady’s arms. Something made of cotton and thread and dreams.

‘Come – sit with me and tell me of the hope still scorching a corner of your heart.’


And they sat and drank coffee in the reed-hushed night. And when the seamstress had spoken of the desires rooted deep in the warm earth of her heart, and had not been mocked, she dared ask the Rose Lady’s counsel.

‘I cannot weaken the truth – for what good can a medicine do if too much water be added into it? You have much still to learn if you would have your garments bought.’

She put a hem in the hand of the seamstress.

‘Feel how this is too uneven – like the back of a crocodile, it goes up and down.’

‘But I wanted a wave – like the riding of a dhow beside a jetty.’

‘That is not what I see.’

‘What can I do when I am not sighted like others? How can I ever get any better?’

Despair gushed up inside the blind seamstress, as viscous and stinking as asphalt. It dragged wretchedness and every memory of failing with it like grit. The seamstress wept.


The Rose Lady stopped her tears with sweetmeats and dates.  She made the fingertips of the seamstress feel the faults and knots, bunched cloth and puckered linings. The Rose Lady made her smell the dyes – nose-itching turmeric root for golden yellows, the pea stench of indigo blue, and the gingery tickle of red madder.

‘It is like making pilaff – too many tastes at once and your tongue is confused. So it is with colour. Too little and the gown is dull, too much and only a spangled acrobat could wear it.’

‘Teach me more – tell me what to do.’

The Rose Lady passed over a sugar-dusted cube of lakhoum but said nothing. The seamstress let it dissolve on her tongue but all its sweetness could not wash away the gall of fear.

It came out in a bitter whisper.

‘The others are better than me.’

The Rose Lady’s gold tinkled and did not agree.

‘Ah, but they have not your ways with the needle,’ she said.

‘They do not choose as you do – they have not fondled cotton on the bolt nor traced the patterns of damask with your fingers.  You hold each dream within your palms as the potter does the clay. It turns and has a thousand-and-one sides to it and all bear the imprint of your skin.’

She sipped her coffee. Swamp-hens called in the reeds. The seamstress considered.

Then she took off her headscarf with its scant trim of coins. She laid it across her open palms and knelt with her arms held out.

‘Take these and tell me what I should do, I beg of you.’

The Rose Lady made her fingers close around the thin linen and the single line of discs.

‘I would not hear of it, dear Child of Promise. I can only tell you what is wrong – I cannot right it for you.’

She placed her hand over the mouth of the seamstress before she could cry out.

‘I would not even if I could – I do not seek to deny you.’

A sigh disturbed the bared curls of the seamstress. The Rose Lady took her hand away from her lips.

‘Whatever you make from your own faults and fumblings, that is yours – it belongs to you. And that makes it precious. If I say ‘do this’ and ‘do that’, it will be as plaster for marble,  or painted wood for bronze – all semblance and no truth.’

The voice of the seamstress brightened. The richness of ‘promise’ and ‘precious’ fed her hopes.

‘Please help me make the best dress I can.’

The Rose Lady spoke and there was a chuckle in the depths of her throat. It sat there, smoky and subtle as the charred skin on the aubergine flavours babaganoush.

‘It will not be one dress, sweet child – but many. Your fingers will bleed and your sinews will ache, and Unease will always stalk you – yet will you follow my path?’


‘Whilst my heart beats I will try.’

The Blind Seamstress

First part of a fairy story for writers.


A blind girl took a notion to become a seamstress. She had always loved the feel of clothes – in net skirts she could be a dancer, light as a fuchsia flower; in vast satins, become an Empress; or in soft, washed cottons, a dreamer of discoveries.

Oh and the feel of them! To rub the smoothness of ribbon on her top lip. To slip the inside of her wrist past the tickle of feather trims. To tap the patterns of sequins and beads with her fingertips.

Dressmaking she knew was more than these lovelies thrown together. Had her palms not patted the outlines of sleeves and bodices, then clasped at waists and swept down full, swirling skirts? Therefore she would seek out someone to learn from, a Queen of the Needle to train her hands.

Now the blind girl found one such instructress. She learned much from the Bearer of the Golden Thimble, as did the others in her Court. The redingotes and mantuas, farthingales and houppelandes of all places and all times were spread before them as treasures to imitate and learn from. It was a tiring sort of bliss.

The day came when our girl made her first full dress.  The Sighted Ones came and said that it was good.

Yet this was not enough.

‘I want to be as other seamstresses,’ she said.

‘My skin has felt their wondrous gowns upon it; has touched the furred luxury of a patrician’s robes; has worn the velvet of the soothsayer and the mail of a knight.

I have seen how their seams fit, the gores and the box pleats, the hems and the gussets. And I know that their clothes are beloved.

If I make a dress of my own devising, won’t somebody buy it? And then I shall know I have done well.’

an afar girl smiles

She set to work.

She asked advice and many were the answers. This year muslin alone was being bought – no, seersucker was quite the go.  Lace had to be the very thing – nay, but damask could only please.

She made her dress as she felt right; made it such as would fit herself.

Friends told her it was a lovely thing.

‘Then I shall take it to market,’ she said.

Now it so happened, she had learned the ways of the Sighted and could pass for one at first and maybe second glance. It was not a strangeness for her to be there, it seemed to others, though it caused a tumult in her chest. She stood in the Place of New Garments and held out her dress.

‘Who will buy?’ she called.

Feet came. Her heart rose in a fountain, all domes and bubbles and joy.Other fingers made her dress sway, touched its threads and gathers. This was her break in the clouds, when the sun would kiss her cheek.

‘Perhaps another day,’ one said.

‘Let me try – alas, but it does not fit,’ said another.

‘Not quite what I desire,’ said a third.

She heard the pity in their mouths roll like cherry stones, caught the tinkle of earrings as they shook their heads. At length, the evening came and no-one had bought, although many had given counsel.

She went home. She unpicked and sewed all through the night. The lack of candles was no obstacle to her. Hours filled with the tingle of coffee she took to make it all anew.

The next market day came. She stood beside her dress on its wire-busted cage and called for buyers. Feet came and went. She recognised the passing scents of her companions from the Court of the Golden Thimble. They tossed encouraging remarks to her then passed into the Great Bazaar. Calls of acclamation greeted them and the brass gates clanged shut.

Still no-one bought her dress. All through the hot afternoon, above the air layered with sweat and donkeys and oranges, she heard the clamour of the souks. One day she would surely trade there, hear delight in the voice of a buyer, do what her hands had folded in prayer for.

The cool of evening fell on her neck like a rinsed veil. She took down her dress and walked home alone. The wire stand weighed heavy under her arm.

Market Day followed Market Day like camels in a train. Traders to the left of her and to the right of her sold their djellabahs and left. She smiled for their success and waited for her turn.

It did not come.

a brown eye, weeping

Then one night, in the chill of the sleeping city, alone, she leaned against the doors of the Great Bazaar. The brass dragged the warmth of her skin into its engraved geometry. She let the dress slump over her arm, a dead thing of pulled threads and puckered selvedges. A light wind raised its tattered hem then let it fall.

‘I can do no more,’ she said to the whirls of sand dancing around her feet. ‘My notion was a foolish one. I will go back to the village and wash fruit for my living.’

Then she walked towards the heat of the night-watchman’s brazier, where beggars belched cheap palm wine and street dogs scratched. The crackle of burning sticks would give her a place to aim – she had to stop and listen. Her cheeks grew taut.

‘May this warm a poor man’s palms,’ she said, forgetting that she spoke aloud. She balled the cloth and tossed it to the flames.

But the dress never reached the fire. A hand caught it.

to be continued.