Textile Mythology: Penelope's cloth

Penelope, daughter of Icarius was of such great beauty that innumerable Greek princes asked for her hand. Her father, wanting to avoid the potential fights that his daughter could cause, decided to hold a competition, the winner of which would be allowed to marry his daughter. But the happy winner, Ulysses, quickly left for the war in Troy and did not return to Ithaca for another two decades. During this long absence, Penelope stayed faithful, in spite of the suspicion that her husband was dead and the number of admirers who presented themselves at her feet. To get rid of them, she came up with a number or ruses, the most famous consisting of creating a large shroud destined to envelop her father in law, Laertes, on his death; Penelope announced that she would marry no one until she had finished this funereal cloth. She worked night and day, at night undoing the work she had done during the day; thus her work was never finished, and the mysterious shroud helped her to keep her fidelity during over three years.
Penelope’s cloth is now used as a common expression to talk of something on which we work ceaselessly but never finish.
John William Waterhouse (1849–1917), Penelope and the Suitors, 1912, oil on canvas, 131×191cm