Thread the Needle

DESCRIPTION: "Thread the needle, thread the needle, through the eye ...; Who likes pancakes? I, I, I!" or "who am I? One, two, three, if you want a pretty girl, come and fetch me" or "thro' the skin Sometimes out, and sometimes in"
AUTHOR: unknown
EARLIEST DATE: 1892 (Northall)
KEYWORDS: playparty food courting
FOUND IN: Britain(England(South))
REFERENCES (3 citations):
Opie-Game 1, "Thread the Needle" (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: G.F. Northall, English Folk-Rhymes (London, 1892 ("Digitized by Google")), p. 397, ("Thread the needle thro' the skin") (1 text)
ADDITIONAL: J.B. Partridge, "The Game of 'Thread the Needle' and Custom of Church Clipping" in Folklore, Vol. XXIII, No. 2 (Jun 1912 (available online by JSTOR)), p. 199 ("Thread the needle, thread the needle, through the eye, eye, eye, eye") (Wiltshire, 1907); p. 203 ("Thread the needle, thread the needle, who am I?") (Wiltshire, c.1850) (2 texts)

CROSS-REFERENCES:
cf. "Poor Jack (Shrove Tuesday)" (game)
cf. "King William's Troops" (game)
cf. "Call the Hogs to Supper" (game)
cf. "Grandy Needles" (game)
cf. "Brother Jack, If You Were Mine" (game)
NOTES: Opie-Game lists seven texts to be sung with the game "Thread the Needle"; of those, only one includes that text. Partridge, "The Game ....," lists five texts; of those only two include the text.
According to Partridge, "The Game ....," the game was originally connected to pancake eating and church clipping -- "the encompassing of a parish church by a ring of children or young persons, who join hands so as to form a great circle" -- on Shrove Tuesday. As noted above, a great variety of texts went with the game and, in Partridge's second text the rhyme "suggests a courting game." A review of four authors listing rhymes connected to the "Thread the Needle"/"Pig in the Gutter" game includes -- once duplicates are eliminated -- 60 texts.
The works included are:
Alice Bertha Gomme, The Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland (New York, 1964 (reprint of 1894 edition)), Vol I, pp. 231-235.
Alice Bertha Gomme, The Traditional Games of England, Scotland and Ireland (New York, 1964 (reprint of 1898 edition)), Vol II, pp. 228,229,231.
Northall, pp. 397-398, 421-422.
Opie-Game, pp. 33-46.
J.B. Partridge, "The Game of 'Thread the Needle' and Custom of Church Clipping" in Folklore, Vol. XXIII, No. 2 (Jun 1912 (available online by JSTOR)), p. 198-203
J.B. Partridge, "Cotswold Place-Lore and Customs (Continued") in Folklore, Vol. XXIII, No. 4 (Dec 1912 (available online by JSTOR)), p. 446
The rhymes have been indexed here under eight titles:
Brother Jack, If You Were Mine
Call the Hogs to Supper
Grandy Needles
How Many Miles to Babylon?
King William's Troops
The Needle's Eye
Poor Jack
Thread the Needle
Of these, four share few, if any, elements with the other four. These stand-alone rhymes are
Brother Jack, If You Were Mine
Call the Hogs to Supper
The Needle's Eye
Poor Jack.
The other four rhymes swap elements though they remain different enough to be clearly distinguishable from one another.
A comparison of their elements follows. Alternatives are separated by "/" or "OR." "NOT-SPECIFIED" is a choice among alternatives meaning "none of the others." Elements are assumed to occur all the time unless prefixed by "MOST OF THE TIME:," "SOMETIMES:" or "ONCE OR TWICE:."
"Grandy Needles":
Thread grandmother's/tailor's/NOT-SPECIFIED needle]
[MOST OF THE TIME:
Open gates for King George and his bride/his lady/me]
[MOST OF THE TIME:
Too dark/blind to see to thread grandmother's/tailor's needle]
[ONCE OR TWICE:
Sometimes out and sometimes in]
[ONCE OR TWICE:
We go through the long valley/lobby to see blue bells/King's horses]
"How Many Miles to Babylon":
How many miles to such-and-such a place? Can we get there by such-and-such a time? Yes.
[MOST OF THE TIME:
Open the gates for king and lady/family/host OR
Open the gates for me/us]
[SOMETIMES:
Must curtsy/back-and-bow to be allowed through]
[SOMETIMES:
Last one through has problem]
[ONCE OR TWICE:
Too dark to see to thread the needle]
[ONCE OR TWICE:
Thread the needle OR
Jump little horse]
"King William's Troops":
Open gates for king and lady/troops/horses
[ONCE OR TWICE:
too dark to see to thread tailor's/NOT-SPECIFIED needle]
"Thread the Needle":
Thread needle through skin/eye/NOT-SPECIFIED
[ONCE OR TWICE:
Sometimes out and sometimes in OR
Let King George and I by OR
Eye too little, needle too big OR
Take me, a pretty girl/bonnie lassie OR
Who likes pancakes? I do]
The mention of pancakes, as in "Thread the Needle" and "Poor Jack," is a reference to the special dish of Shrove Tuesday, when "Thread the Needle" games were often played. The problem for the last one through refers to the objective of some versions of the game to "capture" the last player. - BS
Last updated in version 2.6
File: OpGa001

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