With those hands…Family treasures


imageThis week I had one of those catastrophic events that resulted in my airing cupboard being at the wrong end of a burst pipe. Filthy dirty water from the heating system ruined my sheets, towels and everything else secreted away in there,  so there was nothing for it but to transport the black, heavy sodden mass to the washing machine and put on a boil wash, with stain remover and biological powder added to be sure, to be sure!
Imagine my horror when unloading the washing machine, to discover that a hand embroidered table-cloth had also been boiled in the soup! This particular table-cloth was a special one that was made specially for me 45 years ago. My Aunt May was a nun and nuns always kept busy, presumably because ‘the devil makes work for idle hands’. Nuns too were often wonderful needle women, and I know that Aunty May was, as had been her mother before her. My grandmother appears on the 1901 census with two of her sisters, all of them seamstresses. So it was in the genes.
Post Vatican 2, Roman Catholic religious orders had to renew their vow of poverty, and with my 21st birthday coming up in 1969, Aunty May asked me what I would like to have for my birthday, as she may not be able to send anything after the renewal of the poverty vow. I did not hesitate and asked if I might have an embroidered table-cloth. I was so thrilled when she presented me with my very own embroidered tablecloth. image

The embroidery is of the same quality on both front and back, and the edges are trimmed with crochet lace. I have no idea how many hours thus must have taken to create, but I love it as much today as I did when I first saw it. What a relief to find that it had survived a boil wash! To think of the number of perfect stitches on this one piece, the eyes that peered so closely at them,the expert hands that made each one, fills me with wonderment. I particularly love the texture of the flower petals. I am proud and delighted that my Aunt undertook such a labour of love!

My mother and my other Aunt Di had beautiful tablecloths.  ‘Di’ whose real name was Eileen, was also my godmother. She had a most beautiful hand embroidered tablecloth that had been given to her as a wedding gift by Mrs McCloskey in Carrigart, Co Donegal in 1946. Mrs Mc Closkey had a factory that produced the most elegant ladies knitwear and clothing and beautiful elegant gifts. Di’s wedding gift tablecloth was a heavily embroidered Willow Pattern design and I had never seen the like of it before or since. It was quite simply, exquisite.
Her linen tablecloths and treasured pieces of china were her pride and joy and she was especially fond of that Willow Pattern cloth. I often visited her at her home in Glasgow, and she would open the sideboard drawer and take out the tablecloths one by one, followed by her china that she used as often as she could when she had visitors to the house. Together we would admire these beautiful things laid out before us. It was a ritual that I loved. Beautifully embroidered tablecloths and special china called for beautiful homemade cakes and pastries, and she was a most wonderful baker of these fancies. Her Porter Cake was simply to die for! The last time I saw her, on a visit in 1999, just months before she died, she gave me one of her very special tablecloths and a couple of pieces of her beloved china. These are now among my most treasured possessions.

imageThis is the beautiful cloth she gave me with overlooked scalloped edges. I often wonder how many stitches went in to the making if it and who made it. Was it made by one person or several people working together? I am not sure where she got it, perhaps it was a gift from my Aunt May, who was her older sister.

And so the dark cloud of a flood in my airing cupboard led me to rediscovering these treasures, so safely tucked away that I rarely see them.

My mother too had  a number of beautiful linen tablecloths, many of which disappeared down the years, but I do have a couple from her collection.

This one below is a simple cross stitch and I remember it on a small table in our sitting room when I was a child. I have always loved the colours of this one, although I have never used it in my own house.

The next one is my favourite of my mother’s. It is such an honest ‘ordinary’ cloth for a small table. This was brought out when someone came for tea, and it survived many washings and spills – a trusty stalwart of the linen drawer!

imageIt is necessary to look at this one quite closely to appreciate the detail of the wreaths of flowers.

And so the dark cloud of a flood in my airing cupboard led me to rediscovering these treasures, so safely tucked away that I rarely see them. I thought it would be nice to make a record of these beautifully crafted works of art and to share them. Although I do not know who made each of them, that they were crafted with love and pride is obvious in the exquisite needlework. I am blessed indeed to own these beautiful pieces of my Family History!




Filed under Family History, Home, Ireland, Irish Heritage

23 responses to “With those hands…Family treasures

  1. Beautiful work in all of these, Angela… thank you so much for sharing them. It seems your misfortune was a blessing in disguise… reuniting you with treasured memories. I love linens such as these also, do use them now and then…I’m sure your loved ones would appreciate it.

    • Thanks Chris. Di was such a wonderful ‘ironer’ – the only person I know who adored ironing! You should see the wonderful job she made of these when she ironed them..never know why I cannot get the same results! I loathe ironing, otherwise would have them out for sure. I wont be putting them away near any water bearing pipes again…

  2. Well! You managed to hit almost everything I love in this post! This combination–of vintage and handmade linens, family ties, and sentiment–just makes me so happy. Your linens are truly exquisite and you are so lucky to have them. And they are lucky to be in the hands of someone who really appreciates them! But do get them out of that closet! If you can’t bring yourself to use them, at least consider displaying them. You might want to look at the post I did yesterday for a simple display idea.

    • Well I am glad that I made your day. I had read your post and I might steal your idea for displaying these wonderful heirlooms. What a beautiful solution..provided I can get them properly ironed of course!
      Thanks so much for dropping by!

  3. JuliaMcSweeney

    BeautIful items to treasure

  4. I am in awe at the time and skill in the work on the cloths. I haunt collectibles sales and often buy works like these. I just want to appreciate again what some unknown person produced and somehow let them know that I treasure their love and time and effort. Maree

    • Maree. I absolutely agree that the skill is quite breathtaking! And of course it does go beyond just skill – it is indeed an act of love to produce something like this. So pleased to have shared these with someone who really appreciates them!Thank YOU for dropping by!

  5. Map of Time

    These are beautiful pieces, Angela. How lucky you are to have such treasures with great stories behind them.

  6. How beautiful! I’m so glad it wasn’t ruined in the wash. Treasures like this can’t be replaced.

  7. The burst pipe sounds awful–but it was fun to see the beautiful embroidered items in your closet. I’ve never been able to figure out how some expert embroiderers can make a piece that is of the same quality on the font and back. I wish that I was so skilled. 🙂

  8. Sorry to hear about the dreaded burst pipe but delighted to see such beautifully crafted treasures.

    • Aw thank you – I just wish I could iron them well enough to do them justice!
      Every burst pipe has a silver lining ……

      • They look great as they are. Ancient embroidered hankies are among my treasures. The little boxes were so cute and the hankies have such colour and style. My mother told me about one birthday when she was about nine and a real tomboy and her rage at getting embroidered hankies from everyone. She eventually came to appreciate them!!!

  9. Thank you for sharing your treasures with us. I have a few pieces that my mother made and I treasure every one. Beautiful!

  10. Just catching up with you and all your treasures now. What beautiful pieces they are. I particularly love the poppies. And that scalloped cut work piece must have taken an age to do. Fantastic quality there too, to survive that boil wash!

    • Yes the Poppies are beautiful – such texture in the petals with different threads and stitch length! Throw backs to times when women were always creating – knitting, darning, sewing, embroidering, stitching away! Some of these items must have taken months to do! What patience they had! Cannot believe the colours did not run in the boil wash!

  11. Leith

    Angela, Thank you for this delightful post! Thank goodness all was well in the end! At my country convent the nuns taught us “fancywork’ and crochet but of course we never achieved this standard, tho’ it planted a love of handcrafts. When a nun had a Jubilee we were allowed into the parlour to see the numerous gifts of embroidered linen and crocheted pieces on display. Indeed, “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.”

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