Thursday, December 21, 2006

old textiles

Linen hand towels, two of the patterns here are the only ones left of many others, which were well-used and worn out.

I have to think my love of handmade textiles, whether woven, knitted, crocheted, etc. must come from my mother's family. I had always known, I suppose, that my mother's sisters and aunt helped her prepare quite a set of linens when she announced she was marrying my father: hand towels and tea towels of linen, sheets and pillowcases of heavy cotton. If memory serves me right, I think even our bath towels were linen -- no terrycloth for us!


Crocheted edging and embroidered monogram on cotton bedsheet.

Only recently did I realize that spinning and weaving were skills that were fairly widespread not so long ago. About a year ago, I was proudly showing my father my first attempts at spinning and suddenly he was recalling comments his own mother might have made about such examples of spinning, critical comments that my father quickly tried to take back. She, of course, could spin as a matter of necessity. I reassured him that I've been told by expert spinners that my spinning resembles the expensive lumpy/bumpy stuff they sell as "novelty" yarn, an effect my expert spinning friends assure me they cannot now produce although they might wish to....So, I spin on happily in a beginner's ignorance!

My parents carried on a rather clandestine courtship and got married precipitously just before my father had to leave for South Africa. He had already been enrolled as a student in a college there and left Finland immediately following the wedding. My mother stayed behind in Finland to break the news to her family (it was a bit of a shock to them, to say the least) and of course, to enlist the aid of her sisters in preparing a trousseau. My mother says she asked each of her sisters for a set of sheets with crocheted edging and she did the monograms herself. Then she and my great-aunt Elli got busy weaving towels and rugs.

Being my mother's favorite crocheted edging pattern, these sheets were 'saved' for extra special guests and thus escaped the fate of the rest of the sheets.

My mother is a social creature, but she was determined to weave a rag rug on a loom that had been set up in one of the outbuildings on the family farm. However, she told me she was so painfully bored there, weaving all alone, that she interrupted her weaving many times to go up to the house where there would have been some company, somebody to talk to, coffee and pulla.

It took nearly a year before my mother was able to settle affairs in Finland and join my father in South Africa. Those linens travelled with her to South Africa, to Ethiopia, back to Finland, and finally to Canada.



I remember many of these items -- including the rug which actually did get finished -- but unfortunately very few of them remain. It makes me sad when I realize that I grew up with these treasures, taking them completely for granted, even as I loved the texture of the stiffly ironed cotton sheets and pillows, the pretty trims and the "fancy-writing" monograms. They always smelled of sunshine because they were dried outside on the line after being laundered.

These days, with only one or two of these sheets left, my mother has been in the habit of using them only for special guests. Isn't that nice? I was a 'special guest' at my parents' house last week, and indeed I felt very special and loved!

When I left Vancouver this time and my mother offered them, I gladly tucked a few of the towels and sheets into my suitcase (I have a terrible pack-rat habit which should not be fed with such nostalgia-laden items!!)

In 1976, when I visited Finland, I got my first opportunity to try my hand at weaving. My Aunt Martta had a large loom set up in a room just off the big farmhouse tupa (kitchen). I'm not even sure what she was working on, but I sat up on the bench and tried to slide the shuttle across...only to have my helpful cousin point out everything I was doing wrong. He was right, of course, loops left on the selvage edges, etc. I don't doubt that he really could have done better than I was doing!

I wonder how many modern brides have sheets with handcrocheted trims and monograms, or linen towels they themselves, a sister or an aunt, might have made at home for the trousseau. Even that word, trousseau, is a rather old-fashioned word, isn't it?

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10 Comments:

Blogger sisah said...

These old textiles are very lovely.It makes me sad there are none to pass on in my family. I love them too and sometimes buy old fabrics on flea markets here.
My mother told me ( and is still telling me) stories about her life on a farm and Gasthaus in Ostpreußen before the war and how grandmother,aunt, mother and sisters were weaving and spinning for their dowry. It all had to be left behind when they had to flee from the russians.
The girls used to learn all these old crafts in those days before the war, nowadays they are not important in our society and seem to be forgotten.
On the other hand I am surprised about all these blogs for knitting I am discovering in the net.

9:10 AM  
Blogger Kati said...

I like to think that some of the old arts will never die out just because I see the pleasure of knitting has boomed recently, not in any small part because many movie stars have taken it up. It is dreadful to think of the linens your family lost to the war. I gather from your remarks that these crafts are no longer taught in schools in Europe then, as they were when I started school in Finland in the early '60s?

11:30 AM  
Blogger Crafty Gardener said...

I'm enjoying reading your blog posts ... blogging is new to me, and quite addictive. I'm an avid gardener and really enjoyed all the gardening photos.

Crafty Gardener
http://craftygardener.blogspot.com/

8:50 PM  
Blogger Hannele said...

Happy new year.

6:02 AM  
Blogger Anita said...

Kati, I really adore your old textiles! You could be very proud of having them! I am just re-discovering the "world of stiching and embroidery", and I may try some of my stitches on the old lines I inherited from my grandmother.

Happy New Year to you!

2:52 PM  
Blogger La Gringa said...

They are lovely. You wonder how many modern brides have handmade treasures like these? My guess: none!

Happy New Year!

11:11 PM  
Blogger Kati said...

Happy New Year to everyone. Since switching to the new blogger, I'm having trouble posting. I hope that problem will soon be resolved.

10:22 AM  
Blogger Annie in Austin said...

Happy New Year, Kati and good luck with your posts.

I don't have any heirloom sheets,but own a couple of pillowcases with tatting done by my grandmother, and some embroidery made by a great-aunt back in the 1920's. Knitting makes me claustrophobic, but my daughter made lovely scarves for some family members this year - she's one of the new young knitting brigade.

Annie at the Transplantable Rose

9:25 PM  
Blogger Kati said...

Find me at "spirit doors", link in sidebar, until I can figure out how to return to posting here.
http://doorwaystospirit.blogspot.com/

12:41 PM  
Blogger sisah said...

Oh, now I know what´s wrong. I was already wondering what might be the matter....

10:40 AM  

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