Broadcloth Breasts

A shady friend for torrid days
Is easier to find
Than one of higher temperature
For frigid hour of mind.

The vane a little to the east
Scares muslin souls away;
If broadcloth breasts are firmer
Than those of organdy,

Who is to blame? The weaver?
Ah! the bewildering thread!
The tapestries of paradise
So notelessly are made!

~Emily dickinson

Pam: Oh, this one is oddn!It’s easier to find a shady friend on a hot day, than a warm friend on a cold one?

Brenna: I think so–“fair weather friends.” It’s easy to find friends who will stick with you when things are good. But those friends flee when they catch a whiff of trouble. And whose fault is it that some people are like this? God’s?? How weird! That is my paraphrase of this poem.

Pam: What are broadcloth breasts??

Brenna: I think broadcloth was cheaper/tougher than fine materials like organdy. More common. Less prestigious…but the less prestigious friends may be the better ones, the ones who are in it for the long haul. Just because someone looks pretty doesn’t mean they’re going to stick with you.

Pam: Fair. I get the broadcloth/organdy comparison. But. Breasts?

Brenna: “Breasts” because that’s where the heart is? But boy howdy, does that sound super-weird to modern ears.

Pam: It’s so bizarre. Like. Why not describe faces? Or hands? And muslin, of course, is both a fabric and the word you use for a test garment you make in order to insure that your pattern works.

Brenna: It is? I did not know that! Maybe the “muslin” friends, like the test garments, were never made to last.

Pam: Yes! I’m not sure how modern the terminology is to refer to test garments as muslins, but it’s used that way nowadays.

Brenna: I hope that meaning held back then–I think it adds a lot to the poem! Some friendships are never meant to last. They’re pleasant, surface relationships for pleasant, surface times. But when things get real, you need the broadcloth friends. The ones who will stick it out with you.

Pam: Ah! It’s so-called because garment makers typically used muslin, which was pretty cheap, to make the test garment. Then they could make the pattern again, with any adjustments, in the final material, which was probably more expensive. Yes! You want friends who can be made into sturdy bags. Not friends only good for party dresses.

Brenna: So maybe all friendships start as muslin ones? And some stand the test of time and become broadcloth. Some turn out to be organdy–pretty, but not lasting. Others just remain muslin. They never work out.

Pam: They’re basic friendships that don’t delve into anything deeper. Acquaintances, not kindred spirits.

Brenna: “Friends who can be made into sturdy bags”= my new favorite out-of-context quote.

Pam: You and I are BROADCLOTH.

Brenna: You know it!

Pam: I’m going to cross stitch that for you as a constant reminder of our weird friendship.

Brenna: That would be possibly the best gift of all time. You have to stitch it ON broadcloth.


Brenna: Have we discussed this poem enough? I think we have. Thanks for the firm broadcloth breasts, Emily.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s