Fun facts: Bordando el Manto Terrestre is a painting by Remedios Varo, a Spanish surrealist painter who was buddy-bud-buds with Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Varo first fled from Spain to Paris to escape the Spanish Civil War, and then again from Paris to Mexico City to escape the Nazis. She lived in Mexico City with her husband, the poet Benjamin Péret, from 1941 until her death in 1963.
Pynchon's description of the painting isn't totally accurate, which might suggest that he describes it from memory. As with Maxwell's Demon, however, what is most important is how the painting looms large in Oedipa's imagination.
Oedipa sees the painting in Mexico City while she is vacationing there with her (at the time) boyfriend Pierce Inverarity. At the close of Chapter One, she recalls the effect that it had on her. The painting depicts a group of women in a tower surrounded by a void. They are all knitting a tapestry, which spills out of the tower:
[…] seeking hopelessly to fill the void: for all the other buildings and creatures, all the waves, ships and forests of the earth were contained in this tapestry; and the tapestry was the world. (1.55)
As Oedipa looks at the painting, she begins to cry.
Oedipa cries because she feels trapped. She feels like one of the women in the tower, and running away to Mexico with Pierce is her own attempt to create a world, to weave a tapestry to fill the void that surrounds her. In short, she realizes that her escape with Pierce is a false escape, an illusion, and that she still remains Oedipa Maas, kept in place by "magic, anonymous and malignant, visited on her from outside and for no reason at all" (1.55). Aww.
There are two key things to take away here. First, Oedipa has a vague sense of being overwhelmed by a power that she does not understand. Second, she attempts to escape this feeling by actively creating a world.
Oedipa will remember the painting several times later in the book, and the malignant "magic" that she senses takes the kinda-sorta more concrete form of the Tristero. But Oedipa's suspicion that her entire situation is an illusion remains.
We're never entirely sure if Oedipa escapes or what exactly it is that she escapes from, or whether she has imagined her predicament or it is actually real. But the question that closes Chapter One echoes throughout the rest of the book:
If the tower is everywhere and the knight of deliverance no proof against its magic, what else? (1.55)