This 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.
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.
This 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!
It 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!