Thursday, March 19, 2015

Honoring our foremothers

My special knitted doily
noun - A family possession handed down from generation to generation.

How do we honor our ancestors, especially our foremothers? What value do we place on the work of our hands, or that of our foremothers’? What is the work of our hands? Why do we make things? All these questions keep swirling around in my head as I tackle a bagful of my Grandmother’s hand work that has been hiding on the upper shelf of my studio closed for nearly a decade.

In a frenzy of decluttering, I very nearly just got rid of the whole thing.

The whole pile of needlework heirlooms
My Grandmother was an avid needlewoman, and the items in this bag represent many hours of her life and work. Included in the bag are the following:
  • Doilies: 17 crocheted; 7 knitted; 1 of unknown technique (bobbin lace?);
  • 4 sets of crocheted blocks, intended to be made into bedspreads;
  • 3 crocheted edgings, apparently cut off of something;
  • 1 crocheted dresser scarf; several crocheted and knit items;
  • Yards and yards and yards of tatted edging (my grandmother, when she was no longer able to see to do other needlework, would sit and tat for hours, because she didn’t have to look at what she was doing. She was keeping her hands busy;
  • 2 table cloths: 1 embroidered, 1 cutwork; 2 embroidered dresser scarves, one with crocheted edging;
  • 30 or so delicate handkerchiefs (that my mother had collected);
  • Several sets of hankie-sized embroidered napkins;
  • 7 batiste embroidered baby dresses, and 5 slips (some of which I probably wore as an infant); and
  • A few things that were beyond redemption.

These lovely items were treasured. Or were they?

Many of the pieces appeared to be in really rough condition. They had been stored in poor conditions in Houston, Texas, where it is muggy, and buggy. There are stains (those mysterious brown stains that show up on ageing fabric, as well as apparent spills) on some of the pieces, and dirt and debris. They were just stuffed in a plastic bag. This could be a bag of old rags.

A few knitted, tatted, and crocheted pieces, cleaned up

After my first impulse to get rid of these things, I decided to wash everything, and see what I actually have. Most of the items, especially the crocheted and knitted things, cleaned up quite nicely. I’m beginning to see the hours of my Grandmother’s life represented here, and appreciate her skill and passion. Just because I am keen to declutter, and remove all the extra things from my home, doesn't mean that these lovely textiles should just be discarded. My daughter, who is a picture framer and an avid genealogist, reminds me that these are her heirlooms, too. She took a number of pieces, and plans to frame them.

Choosing specific pieces to frame strikes me as the perfect way to honor my Grandmother’s life and work. She deserves the recognition. I already have a special knitted doily Grandmother gave to me, framed and hanging on the wall. That is my daily reminder. She was a wonderful person and I miss her.

Tatted lace edging I will use for some special things

Cleaning up all the beautiful textiles that Grandmother made has given me the opportunity to remember and to think about the work of our hands, and why we make artful things, and whether we need to keep it all. I can honor Grandmother by passing the rest of the things on to my daughters who want them, and sharing with my needlework friends who appreciate them. One special piece is enough for me. 

1 comment:

  1. You're doing a beautiful job with your 'collection'. Allowing yourself a bit, giving other pieces to people who will also value them - that's all part of the project and you should feel very good about your efforts.