From a photograph by Solomon D. Butcher of four daughters of rancher Joseph M. Chrisman, at their sod house in Custer County, Nebraska. From left to right, Harriet, Elizabeth, Lucie, and Ruth. Photographed in 1886.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Old Linens

Looking through some fabric treasures



EmbroideryKeely borrowed some Bolivian things from me a few weeks ago so she could teach a lesson about Bolivia at the daycare where she's working this summer. The school-age children were studying various countries that (Keely said) they are unlikely to study in much depth at school.

She brought the box back while my brother was visiting, and it's been sitting in the living room ever since. I finally opened it up yesterday afternoon and packed its contents back into the several chests where they ordinarily live with mothballs. Most of the Bolivian wovens are wool and wool blends.

Since I had the cedar chest open, I refolded all the old linens in it. The idea is to fold them differently so the previous fold lines get some relief. Refolding helps prevent weakening and eventual breaking of the fibers at the fold as well as permanent fold lines.

It's supposed to be better to roll old linens than to fold them, but that's not practical with tablecloths, quilts, and other large pieces. I do have some smaller linens rolled --dresser cloths, pillowcases, etc.

Cardboard is verboten for serious archiving, but I did use a cardboard gift wrap tube at the center of the roll. I covered it with several wraps of acid-free paper so the cloth is not in direct contact with the cardboard. I hope that's good enough.

Cedar chests aren't supposed to be too good for old linens either, so I have an old sheet folded in several layers between the wood and the cloth. I really don't have any other place to store these things.

My mother had a lot of old embroidered linens and I inherited a share of those. Some of them were made by her mother, my Grandma Violet Eaton Sees who died of pneumonia when my mother was eight. I think other pieces of handwork were not done by Violet, but were received as wedding gifts, etc. They were packed away when Grandpa Harry Sees married Grandma Barb (Barbara Weber) and were eventually given to my mother.

Some of the linens aren't family heirlooms at all -- at least, not from our family. My mother had a soft spot for old embroidered linens and she bought little pieces at thrift shops and estate sales because she hated to see them unappreciated.

To be honest, I have that same affection for handwork and I've rescued some pieces myself. I know which ones I've collected. I recognize from my childhood some of the pieces my mother had, but there are others that I'm not sure if she inherited or collected.

Many of the pieces have waterspots, stains, worn places, and even little tears. Most of the best of them have small blemishes. I'm sure they have no significant monetary value.

The decorators and crafters who write articles in magazines would make throw pillows from the best parts of some of these old cloths and throw away the scraps. Or they'd cut them up and piece a fancy bedspread from the embroidered parts.

I couldn't do that. No, I have to keep preserving them as they are as best I can, for two reasons:
1) Most of them belonged to my mother.
2) No one does beautiful handwork like that anymore.

I kept out a few pieces to use -- a scarf for the top of the piano, another little cloth for the top of the china cabinet, and a few little doilies to set lamps, etc. on. They're blemished in places, but it doesn't matter. I handwashed a few pieces I had out already and I'll put them back into the cedar chest today.

Lace

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2 comments:

Trixie said...

I would love to see you using many of those pieces. I too love old textiles, and while I hope they last for generations to come, I believe they deserve to be seen and loved while you have them. What a tragedy it would be if they spent all of their existence out of sight, being kept "safe." (hmm. A metaphore for life...)

Anyway, I'm with you. I could never cut a quilt up for any reason. When my aunt died a couple of years ago, my cousins were cleaning out her apartment and had already put all the quilts in a black plastic bag to throw away. I am ever so grateful they asked me first if I would want them! They are now in my home.

My cousins had no idea that the one quilt they thought was tattered beyond reason was a companion quilt to one I have already. The two were made by our great-grandmother and a great aunt during World War I. I had always heard there was the second quilt, and now I have it. They were hand quilted with hot-pink flour sack backing with a war eagle. The tops were pieced double wedding rings.

What I know that my cousins didn't know is that the quilts were being made for my great aunt's trousseau. Her fiance was killed in World War I as the quilts were being put together. Instead of being part of their new family, the war eagle was embroidered into the quilting and the quilts were given to other family members because it broke her heart to see them.

Genevieve said...

I do agree about using these items, but there's a limit to how many places I can use embroidered dresser scarves and doilies. I rotate some in and out. Also, I have quilts and piecework items that I have made myself that I enjoy using! :)

That's a wonderful story about the quilts. I enjoyed reading it.

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CONTENTMENT: Keep your heart free from hate, your mind from worry, live simply, expect little, give much, sing often, pray always, forget self, think of others and their feelings, fill your heart with love, scatter sunshine. These are the tried links in the golden chain of contentment.
(Author unknown)

IT IS STILL BEST to be honest and truthful; to make the most of what we have; to be happy with simple pleasure; and to be cheerful and have courage when things go wrong.
(Laura Ingalls Wilder, 1867-1957)

Thanks for reading.