Tuesday, June 09, 2009

I knew I got it from somewhere

I got interested in needlework when I was just a kid. When I was in fourth grade, a sweet old lady named Aunt Gertrude came regularly to my MGM class and taught a small group of us how to crochet. As a teenager I became an avid cross stitcher. These days I'm particularly interested in embroidery and quilting, although I'm not very good at either of them. My interest, I think, mystified my mother, whose skill with a needle did not extend beyond sewing on a button or taking a hem in a pair of too-long jeans.

Last week my cousin Alice contacted me and said she had come across a big trunk of our Grandma Alice's needlework, and she asked if I'd be interested in any of it. Yesterday a huge carton of linens arrived at the house; there are so many items stuffed into the box that I haven't had time to look at everything.

Cousin Alice is the keeper of the family flame on my dad's side. She loves family history and stories, and she is a passionate genealogist. She has traveled all over the Midwest, Canada, Great Britain and Ireland doing research and meeting distant relatives. Her father, my dad's brother, was a packrat who hung onto EVERYTHING -- photos, documents, old clothes and furniture, even stuff like my dad's yearbook. Why did Uncle Bill keep Dad's yearbook? We'll never know. Uncle Bill's hoarding turned out to be a handy thing for Alice, because when he died a couple of years ago she finally had access to all these marvelous things. I do think it was mean of him, though, to keep her from them when he was still alive -- why couldn't he share these things, along with the stories he could tell about them, with her sooner? At any rate, she's unpacking everything now and is willing to share things with everyone in the family. She was thrilled when I expressed an interest in the linens.

Grandma Alice's needlework hasn't seen the light of day since the 1950s. Some of it is in very delicate condition -- for instance, if you look at the left edge of the "HIS" towel at the top you can see that the fabric is tearing. I'm sure it never snagged on anything; it's just old and fragile. A bunch of items have stains or spots on them. My cousin figured I'd be interested in seeing all of the stitchery, so she didn't worry too much about the condition of individual items.

Besides the number of items packed into the box, the variety of linens is remarkable. There are napkins, hankies, tablecloths, pillowcases, dishtowels, guest towels, doilies, potholders, and a couple of things I haven't even been able to identify. There is an extremely delicate silk piece rolled up in tissue that I need to examine closely -- I think it's an unfinished quilt top. I have no idea what I'm going to do with all of this beyond scanning and photographing pieces so that I can share them with family members. There are so many different items that I have to wonder if Grandma Alice ever used them all? Alice says she loved to entertain, so I guess she would have had the opportunity to bring out the table linens and guest towels, at least, on a regular basis. But I like the idea of her just stitching away obsessively, learning new techniques and trying out new patterns -- I like that image because it reminds me of me and all the finished cross stitch pieces that just end up in the trunk at the foot of my bed, probably never to see the light of day again. Maybe someday someone will have to sort through that trunk and be happily surprised to come across my own little cache of needlework.

This is the edge of a pillowcase and it gives you a sense of Grandma Alice's skill as a needleworker. This one piece employs cutwork, applique, embroidery, and crochet. Like all of her work, this pillowcase isn't initialed or dated, so I have no idea when she made it. I think she died in 1958 or '59, so I do know it's at least half a century old.


kb said...

What beautiful work! My Grandma did needlework and made wall samplers for me and my brother when she was still alive. They are true treasures! My Mom's sister, who passed away a little over a year ago, embroidered pillowcases and dish towels for Mike and I when we were married. I am so happy to have these, although I must admit that they are used for display only so that they don't fall apart. Way too much work put into them for me to use them!

~ Lucy said...

What a fantastic haul! It sounds like such fun. I'm so excited for you and thrilled that ll of grandma's hard work has finally made it into the hands of somebody who so appreciates it. WTG cousin Alice!!!

Linda said...

wow. This is really amazing work.