Embroidery · Quilting · Zig-zag stitch

Living memory

During the latest clear-out at my mother’s prompted by the imminent downsizing and having to move, she came across a stack of linens that she inherited from the clear-out of her late mother, some 20 years ago now. In that stack there were some old linen towels with faded embroidery, some fine but old lace table cloths, some crochet doilies, that kind of stuff. When I saw it, it all looked familiar… Hang on…

Those long and narrow linen towels was what me and my cousin used to wrap around ourselves playing mummies, aged 1. No, I don’t remember doing it, but I remember my grandmother telling me about it later. Those were her common bathroom towels, each 2.5m long. They were well worn already in early 1970s because she got them in 1945 from her mother-in-law among a few other things for the newly-weds, my grandparents.

My great-grandmother made those towels for her son and his young wife. Linen, made of flax. She grew the flax, made it into fleece, corded and spun it, then wove the cloth on her narrow loom. Thick and soft, perfect for towels. She then embroidered them with traditional double-sided redwork designs (those were towels!), made bands of Hardanger lace and finished them with some bobbin lace made of the same flax thread that she used to weave the cloth with.

Those towels were in constant use for the next 50 years, so yes, redwork faded somewhat. But the linen was still soft and strong, without holes, although quite thin now. It probably had another 50 years of use in it – flax is a very resilient fibre.

Of course when I saw this stack of goodies, I didn’t need to be asked twice whether I was interested. 😊

I decided to make a wall hanging rather than to continue using the towels as such. I’ve cut them in the middle and sewn two halves together to get double width – you see the seam in the photos above. There were three towels, so I arranged them one over the other and put a coloured cloth under the Hardanger lace to show the design better. Then, I topped it with one of those large crochet doilies from the stack – my grandmother’s work from 1980s.

I think this came out rather well. 😁

I am not sure however of the origin of the woven decorative band on the bottom. It looks modern, that is, possibly shop-bought in 1960s, but it is woven to exactly the same width as the towel cloth. How could that be? Of course, this is a traditional technique and design that in itself is much older than 1960s, so conceivably it could have been woven by my great-gran too. The towel is made and finished in exactly the same way as the other two, seemingly by the same hand… Or may be just by an equally skilled hand later – we’ll never know now!

For those of you who like technical details πŸ˜‹ – this is two layers of linen throughout. I cut off the plain bit from the middle towel and sewn it onto the end of the plain bit of the bottom towel to get almost the same length as the top towel. I folded the sides and hand-sewn them invisibly on the back.

You can see here the original selvage of the towels.

I have sewn on the doily with zig-zag.

See the stitches? No? Try this:

The stitches blend in with the crocheting, much better than if you were using straight stitch (here is another post about this effect).

Then, to make sure that my heavy and slinky linen hangs straight, I made a channel at the top and inserted a flat piece of timber. This also gave me a lovely base to which to attach picture frame D-rings. 😊

The memory is living again in my kitchen! πŸ˜ƒ

9 thoughts on “Living memory

  1. Wow! That really was such a precious wedding gift. That’s amazing – and to be adjusted and honoured in that way, should outlive all of us! Love the dressing up as mummies bit! LOL!

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    1. I don’t think that either my cousin or me knew anything about mummies when we were that young. I think we were simply having fun wrapping ourselves up in those long towels. But my grandma must have thought we looked like mummies, and so it went down in history as “playing mummies”! πŸ˜‚

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    2. Oh, I also wanted to say, that making her own linen cloth from flax was something my grand-gran did a lot. She also had a wider loom for making bedsheets or jus general purpose cloth for clothing. She also wove finer cloth for shirts, for example. So the cloth was “ordinary”, but all the lace and embroidery was of course special. There was also still some brand new unused towel cloth in the stack of goodies, so I could see what it was like when new. This is why I think that may be she made two embroidered towels, and later in 1960s my grandmother bought those decorative woven bits and made another towel. They could have been placemats, come to think of it, and just happened to be the right width. The lace on that towel is also different. But ultimately we will never know for sure!

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      1. Lol again at the mummies, but that is amazing that she wove her own flax everything!

        Jeanette the 66K is now up and running as a treadle. Skipping a stitch now and then so I’ll be tweaking her a little bit. Might be the foot plate too high or the needle needs to be turned a fraction. Other than that, I’m well impressed with her and so glad I rescued her instead of ending up in landfill. πŸ˜€

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      2. Weaving: well, this was nearly a century ago, between two wars and right after a famine and a financial crisis. She couldn’t just pop up to a shop and buy everything – firstly, there was not much to buy, and secondly, there was no money anyway. Flax is the only fibre you can grow in Northern Europe, so it was the obvious choice.

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  2. Two things here. First, heirlooms with memories are wonderful. Second, the crafts involved to create the everyday – so common when made, but so rare today. Very nice, indeed.

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    1. Thank you! These things were made to be used, so it seemed pointless and wrong to keep them in some box in the attic. This is a different usage from what was intended, but it is still usage! πŸ™‚

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