Tabitha and the widows – 9 April 2022
Here women are gathered together in one place, all sewing. Some sew by hand, one at least has a sewing machine. All are looking down at their work. The picture is busy but silent. We might imagine moments when one stops and turns to say something to another, but the sense is that these women are comfortable together.
This picture is full of light, the walls and the window merge into one. Much of the cloth in the women’s hands is white, as is the hair of the woman sitting facing the viewer. This woman anchors the picture for us. The bottom third of the picture is darker, with a broad horizontal emerging from the cloth, and running from left to right. In the centre of the counter-top is a bring orange bag. It stands out in the picture, as it would have in reality. We can imagine that it was easy to locate in this busy room, and would have contained haberdashery (threads, scissors, pins, etc).
It is a common trope in art to picture women sewing, singularly or in groups. Needlework was essential until very recently, and being a good needlewoman or seamstress carried with it associations with virtue.
The painting is ‘Women sewing’ by Elizabeth Wentworth Roberts (1871-1927), an American artist who studied in Pennsylvania, where she won several prizes. Her style of painting is fluid (like that of John Singer Sargent, and Joaquin Sorrolla), with large brush strokes that leave ridges of paint on the surface of the painting that catch and reflect the light.
This picture is chosen today following the lectionary reading of the story of Tabitha and the widows in Joppa, who sewed so well together.
Now in Joppa there was a disciple whose name was Tabitha, which in Greek is Dorcas. She was devoted to good works and acts of charity. At that time she became ill and died. When they had washed her, they laid her in a room upstairs. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, who heard that Peter was there, sent two men to him with the request, ‘Please come to us without delay.’ So Peter got up and went with them; and when he arrived, they took him to the room upstairs. All the widows stood beside him, weeping and showing tunics and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was with them. Peter put all of them outside, and then he knelt down and prayed. He turned to the body and said, ‘Tabitha, get up.’ Then she opened her eyes, and seeing Peter, she sat up. He gave her his hand and helped her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he showed her to be alive. This became known throughout Joppa, and many believed in the Lord. Meanwhile he stayed in Joppa for some time with a certain Simon, a tanner.
some weave stories
with their words
while others sew them
with their hands
from what I know
and the seamstresses
make the best of friends
as one will feel
the other’s clothing
with their heart
and the other
will listen to their
with their soul
so storytellers –
keep weaving and sewing
our hearts and souls
need the nourishment
only your words and hands provide
Cherry Noel, Storytellers, 2021