More on Scarborough Fair

Thanks for explaining the spice references in Scarborough Fair. Can you help with another line from the song? The second verse starts with:

“Tell her to make me a cambric shirt”

Now, my dictionary tells me that “cambric” is “a fine thin white linen fabric” and says that the word comes from a city in France. Is there some significance to a cambric shirt, or is our singer simply wanting a nice shirt to wear to the fair? TIA.

I have edited to fix the link. – CKDH
[Edited by C K Dexter Haven on 01-23-2001 at 11:27 AM]

Apparently the S&G version is adapted from a traditional folksong, where the pertinent verse was originally (and apparently still is):

Have her make me a cambric shirt
Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme
Without no seam nor fine needle work
And then she’ll be a true love of mine

setting up the shirtmaking as one item in a list of impossible tasks, in the tradition of the fairy-tale heroine who is instructed to meet the prince neither riding nor walking, neither naked or clothed, neither shod nor barefoot, etc. (She meets the conditions by wearing one shoe, dragging one foot on the ground while mostly on the back of a horse or mule, wearing a fishnet, etc.)

Tangent #1: technically, it is possible to make a seamless shirt by either setting up a circular warp or knitting the entire garment.

Tangent #2: the interpretation I’d always heard for the S&G version was that “cambric shirt” was a euphemism for “shroud”, the ultimate minimalism in seamless garments. This ties in with the parallel lyrics about soldiers and warfare. Similarly, “parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme” were sometimes explained as having been medieval abortifacients; there’s actually a bit of evidence for this-- see_Eve’s Herbs_ by John M. Riddle, which also does a number on Ophelia’s choice in floral arrangements.

There’s a concluding verse that seems to be rarely heard today and wasn’t used by Simon & Garfunkel. Unlike the usual gloomy ending, it gives hope.

“If she tells you she can’t I’ll reply / Parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme / Let me know that at least she will try / And then she’ll be a true love of mine.”

Not that I’m the world’s greatest seamstress, but I can’t see how you could make a completely seamless shirt on a circular warp. The result would be a tube of fabric, which would do for the part from the armpits down, but you’ve still got to fasten it at the shoulders somehow to make it a shirt.

Since the song specified a cambric shirt, knitting the garment is out. Cambric is woven from very fine linen threads, which would not stand up in a knitted garment. Yarns for knitting have to have a certain amount of elasticity, and thin linen threads don’t have nearly enough. So this still looks like an impossible task.

Just one more textile geek comment and I’ll be off. I’ve heard variations of this song where the singer asks for a “chambray shirt”. That’s probably a modern mishearing of the lyrics, since cambric is quite unusual these days but chambray is relatively common. Some “denim” shirts are actually chambray, particularly the ones that are light in color and tailored to have a feminine drape.

Re seamless sleeves-- I am talking from a purely theoretical standpoint, as I have no actual weaving experience other than grade-school experiments with a board, some nails, and a needle :slight_smile:

But I suspect that, say, starting with a warp-weighted loom, you could start at the top with the complete armspan width, and divide the warp into two layers for the front and back of the sleeves, leaving them connected at the top “seam” and thoughtfully providing an opening for the head. (Though stories of Agamemnon’s death come to mind here; iirc Robt. Graves also connects him to “impossible task” ambiguities, but I dismember the details.) When you reach the bottom of the sleeves, close them off (er, somehow) and reduce the warp width to the body of the shirt.

Or conversely, start from the bottom of the shirt, and when you get to armpit height, run out wrist-length weft excess on both sides.

Oh well, it’s just an idea :slight_smile:

One might mention Jesus’ robe.

And that “shirt” and “skirt” are doublets of a single word.

You dismember the details, eh? Kinda violent for such a peaceful song. :smiley:

(Sorry, that one was too good to let slide. Nice name, by the way. Any connection with THX 1138?)

>You dismember the details, eh? Kinda violent for such a peaceful song.

Scarborough’s peaceful enough, but Canticle? Besides, I was talking about Agamemnon’s bath, in which his wife ended up thoughtfully filling the tub with his own blood. Mmmm.

>(Sorry, that one was too good to let slide. Nice name, by the way. Any connection with THX 1138?)

Why, yes. The story is long and random, but in short, I adopted it after becoming caught up in the sordid “SW fanfic for plush wombats” trans-Pacific trade. It’s not my fault, honest. Vegemite played a crucial role as well.

<< Vegemite played a crucial role as well. >>

Discussion of Vegemite is forbidden in this forum. It belongs in the Pit. It belongs in the lowest Pit of Hell. Among the most disgusting stuff in the world, and should not be graced by the term “food” nor even “edible.” Ugh.

Now, Dext, tell us how you really feel. :wink:

David Bromberg has a fine kissoff song modeled after Scarborough Fair. It contains lines such as,“When King Kong ain’t a monkey, and James Brown ain’t funky, I’ll take you back. When fools don’t fall in love, and Michael Jackson wears his other glove, I’ll take you back.”

Not familiar with this song (and I should be) of Bromberg’s. What’s the name/album? Just got the second CD to complete my “How Late’ll Ya Play Till?” set because I’m trying to fill out our Bromberg CD section.

Saw Bromberg in concert in Northern CA during the 80s (intimate audience of only 250 with Jerry Jeff opening the day). Bromberg doesn’t tour anymore (though he does play the occasional gig), hasn’t cut an album for quite a while (most recent is probably the 1996 album he played on for Vassar Clements’ “Hillybilly Jazz”) and repairs fiddles/violins in the Chicago area (FYI).

But he’ll be long gone and forgot before he’ll be your fool.


The song I referred to (Which I’m guessing is called “I’ll Take You Back”) was performed on the radio show Mountain Stage a few years back. I taped the show, and I don’t know of it being on any CD. Also on the show was a song called “Watching Baby Fall,” which is on his Sideman Serenade CD on Rounder. He described WBF as a straight-up country song.

He also plays on a Vassar Clements album called Crossing The Catskills.

My local NPR stations don’t carry Mountain Stage anymore, and I wonder if it’s on the web someplace.

Wish I’d caught that … sounds like one of his great talking blues songs. <sigh> Thanks for making my mouth water.

Going to switch on “Kaatskill Serenade” now …

“Where are the men that I used to sport with?”

Now, Dex, vegemite™ has its uses - as a substitute when you’ve run out of axle grease, f’instance.