“Make your bed! A messy bed is a sign of laziness,” an Instagram friend messaged me after I continued to post photographs of my unmade bed, the morning light tucking artful shadows into the crevices of my blanket. I guess after the fifth or sixth similar photo that I posted, followed by the many other images that likeminded people had submitted to me, he just couldn’t take it anymore—so he reached out to stop me from falling into this downy trap.
I wouldn’t entirely disagree with this Insta-friend. I do believe that our outer spaces reflect our inner ones and, judging from my colour-coded bookshelf, my inner space is pretty Type A. But on some mornings, when the light is particularly glossy, or soft, or sad, or sharp, I can’t help but see the beauty in the otherwise ordinary moments exemplified by a messy bed.
I admire them. I try to capture their organic shapes: study the how the creases in the fabric, crisscrossing from a restless night, seem to make pretty patterns when I get up to start a new day. Some mornings my blanket undulates over my bed like that of Gian Lorenzo Bernini’s Ecstasy of Saint Teresa, the angles and curves of the drapery seemingly superfluous, but giving a sense of movement to something we know is static. And if the light is just so, my billowing bed reminds me of clouds seen from an airplane window: the sunlight peeking over the horizon and revealing a sea of creamy cumulus white, with blueish shadows reflected from the night sky behind, delineating its shape.
Sometimes I leave my bed unmade for an hour or two, or the whole day if it pleases me, just so that I can admire its sculpture again and again every time I pass by. I’m not alone; artists like Tracey Emin and Imogen Cunningham have documented the unmade bed, burying in it a deeper story of the sleeper. When I asked for people to send me photos of their own messy beds, I read in their strewn pillows and twisted blankets how turbulent, carefree, or bold they might have felt at the time. In some, the blankets laid unmoved, inanimate, save for a corner folded back. In others, I imagined stories of couples in a blanket power struggle, standoffs with textile walls dividing them. I pictured shared morning coffees with pillows propped up, or those who were perhaps newly single or widowed…and it made me wonder if they would sleep on “their” side of the bed forever. I saw that the folds in fabric were like fingerprints, telling our unique narratives in vulnerable slumber.
This wouldn’t be the first time that fabrics have told stories. Throughout history, artists have taken liberties with depictions of drapery in paintings and sculpture, a language of symbols weaved into its malleable form. My favourite example is in Sandro Botticelli’s Birth of Venus, in which a naked goddess is being blown to shore on a shell (a symbol of her soon-to-be-lost virginity). A maid to her right brings an elaborately painted, flesh-coloured fabric with which to enswathe her, and she holds the drapery precisely looped into the shape of the female sex.
In the case of a great Flemish painter like Peter Paul Rubens, though, I imagine that the enormous robes cascading in all directions were also an extravagant display of talent and simply a luxurious study of light—because he wanted to and he could.
I am awestruck by fabric when I walk through the sculpture wing of the Louvre. The artists have managed to carve fragile, translucent silk gently laid over a young woman’s face, or heavily embroidered sashes wrapped around Napoleon. They have recreated so much of a textile’s movement and essence that reality suspends and I forget that it is, in fact, stone and not gauze.
And though it may seem much plainer than a sculpture in the Louvre, it’s simply nice to stop and find beauty—a still life with drapery—in something so normal as a ball of messy blankets.