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Alphabe Thursday C is for Cambric

June 5, 2014


Cambric is a fine fabric used for shirts much like this one of the 19th century and used to illustrate this weeks nursery rhyme or song.

Can you make a cambric shirt? A song written by Ritson in 1780 and described 10 years later  in his book Gammer Gurton’s Garland, or the Nursery Parnassus as a little English song sung by children and maids.  The story, is of a maid being asked to do a seemingly impossible task of making a shirt from a scrap of linen 3 inches square, can be traced to the Middle Ages. There was once a king stronger, wiser and more handsome than any other man; but he had no wife.  His friends urged him to marry but he replied ‘ You know I am rich and powerful enough as I am; find me a maid who is good looking and sensible I will take her as wife though she may be poor.’ His friends found someone who was not only beautiful and intelligent she was also of royal blood. The king however was not yet convinced and wanted to test her sagacity.  Her sent her the tiny piece of fabric with the promise that he would marry her her if she would make him a shirt to the required measurements.  The girl replied that if the king provided the tools in which she could work the shirt she will do as instructed.  The king sent her ‘vas debitum et precosium’ and the shirt was made and they were married.  

This is one of the tales of the 14th Gesta Romanorum, a tale which may be linked with oriental stories of great age. It is known also in Germany, where it was written down by the Grimm brothers.  It would seem a man asking a maid to sew a shirt is the equivalent to asking for her love, and her consent is acceptance.

Can you make me a cambric shirt,

Parsley, sage rosemary, and thyme,

Without any seam or needlework?

And you shall be a true lover of mine.


Can you wash in yonder well,

Parsley, sage,rosemary, and thyme,

Where never sprung water, nor rain ever fell?

And you shall be a true lover of mine.


Can you dry it on yonder thorn,

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,

Which never bore blossom since Adam was born?

And you shall be a  true lover of mine.


She replies …

Now you’ve asked me questions three,

Parsley, sage rosemary, and thyme,

I hope you’ll answer as many for me,.

And you will be a true lover of mine.


Can you find me an acre of land’

Parsley,sage, rosemary, and thyme,

Between the salt sea and the sea sand?

And you shall be a true lover of mine.


Can you plough it with a ram’s horn,

Parsley, rosemary, and thyme,

And so it all over with one peppercorn?

And you shall be a true lover of mine.


Can you reap it with a sickle of leather,

Parsley, sage, rosemary, and thyme,

And bind it up with a peacock’s feather?

And you shall be a true lover of mine.


When you have done and finished your work,

Parsley sage, rosemary, and thyme,

Then come to me for you cambric shirt,

And you shall be a true lover of mine.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. June 5, 2014 8:07 am

    Thanks. Never thought I could be so interested! Thom

  2. June 5, 2014 4:25 pm

    Never realized Simon and Garfunkel borrowed from an earlier century to create their hit song, “Are You Going to Scarborough Fair.” How did I miss knowing that? Thanks for the info.

    • June 5, 2014 4:29 pm

      The old songs are the best? Sometimes? xxx Thanks for the visit xx

  3. June 6, 2014 2:14 am

    Some great lessons learned today. Thank you.

  4. June 6, 2014 7:53 pm

    that’s new to me also! great info…

  5. June 7, 2014 4:12 am

    Great background to a familiar chorus…Thanks for sharing♪

  6. storybeader permalink
    June 7, 2014 6:01 am

    the poem reminds me of that song by Simon and Garfunkel! But I don’t think those are the words… First thing I thought of, it’s a small shirt. {:-D

    • June 7, 2014 8:39 am

      Make me a shirt? Marry me? the dear lady had a good ‘Thanks but no thanks’ Line though!

  7. June 10, 2014 7:47 pm

    I love that song!

    And those lyrics!

    Cambric is always so soft and cool, I think!

    Thanks for a clever link for the letter C.


    • June 10, 2014 8:06 pm

      I agree. I carried my last child though a hot summer and lived in a cambric frock (tent) in was cool as it could be. Love to you xxxx

  8. June 10, 2014 8:02 pm

    That is some great info! Thanks for sharing, and great choise for the letter C!

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