A Threefold Yarn

A_Threefold_Yarn_Cathy_Haynes_Sally_OReillyRESEARCH RESIDENCY & MINI-PUBLICATION:

A Three-Fold Yarn is a parlour game. Players would spend long evenings rooting through the bookshelf for stories and pictures to combine in a contest that’s rather like an elaborate version of Consequences. The rules are these: each player takes turns to select a passage or picture that links in theme with the last to make a strand. However, a connection too tenuous breaks the strand and a new round is begun by the previous player. This is repeated until three strands have been spun. The winner is the player who can weave the strands into a yarn by identifying what connects all three, and so the yarn as a whole makes a peculiar kind of story. (From the introduction to A Threefold Yarn by Cathy Haynes and Sally O’Reilly, 2004)

Sally O’Reilly and I were invited by curators Deborah Smith and Proboscis to take on a short research residency for their Navigating History programme at East Sussex Record Office, Folkestone Museum & Library and West Sussex County Library. To find away into these vast collections, we played the Threefold Yarn game among the book-stacks, archive boxes and photographic files at the three collections. We mapped out our results onto a large broadsheet, which was distributed as a limited edition to readers, researchers and general public through the host venues.

The three collections hold a startling range of strange, intimate fragments of the past – many of them glimpses of an unknowable story. That constant feeling of not knowing, yet not being able to help imagining and embellishing anyway, influenced the themes for our three strands of yarn: (a) illusion and delusion, (b) fashion and ornament, and (c) trickery, fakery and disguise.

The fragments could be linked together in many more ways than the linear association we’d given them on the page. So we invited the reader to follow the undercurrents, crossovers and coincidences that they found for themselves. We hoped readers would make their own tales from our three-fold yarn, and play the game to make new yarns from books and ephemera they come across elsewhere.

And, of course, in the end the instructions admitted we’d made up the game.


Images from left: ‘Courtship/Matrimony’, nurse Dorothy Earnshaw’s keepsake scrapbook, 1915-17; ‘Koringa’, Bertram Mills Circus, 1939; Hooden horse, date unknown. From the archives of Folkestone Library & Museum.