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Apologies for the many months of blog post silence – not much excuse really, other than that the room I keep my stuff and the computer in is cold in winter and spring, so I’ve been hibernating. Now that summer is here the posts should flow.
Anyway, on to the topic at hand. Over the last few years I’ve become less interested in clutter and more interested in space and simplicity. This is not at all reflected in my vintage textiles collection (or in my life either!). Most of my stuff is highly decorated and brightly colored. I decided to go through it and pull out some items which could be classed as simple. I didn’t find many, but here are some which fit this description.
This is a cute but sadly stained crocheted sugar bowl cover. As you can see, the word ‘SUGAR’ is crocheted in the middle, leaving the user with no doubt as to its purpose. Its basic design and appearance is only subtly relieved by the small peachy beads around the edges. It’s made of good, sturdy cotton and would certainly still repel any unwanted flies from the sugar bowl.
I bought this linen cloth recently – not sure what it is, as it’s an usual size. Perhaps it was made for a particular table. It’s clearly intended to accompany morning or afternoon tea, as the beautifully simple embroidery shows.
It’s not the most expertly-embroidered piece – the lines are kinda wobbly and the pattern marks show in places. This doesn’t bother me, I think it’s really charming. The embroidery is in the bottom left corner, which I find nicely restrained. Red on linen is such a nice combination. The linen is really stiff and hard to iron, hence the ugly creases. I really dislike seeing creases in photographs of vintage textiles but this cloth requires far too long at the ironing board for my liking!
Next is a detail from a very plain, work-a-day, thick, calico-like cotton apron I bought at an opshop in Marton (Rangitikei region). It’s a full wide apron but with a narrow bib and very short attached string for the neck . I can barely get it over my head. It has a nice, big pocket on the front. It was probably intended for every-day wear but is in reasonable knick with few stains. What makes this simple apron interesting in the name written in ink on the bottom hem – Winnie (?) Cornfoot. A few second’s research on google tells me that a Mrs Agnes Cornfoot of Halcombe (near Fielding, which is not far from Marton) signed the famous New Zealand women’s suffrage petition, which was submitted to Parliament in 1893. I feel sure they must be related! It’s very handy when one’s historical subject has a distinctive surname.
I’m not sure I’ve got the first name right, so please feel free to suggest alternatives to Winnie.
My next simple item departs from white & cream, but is nonetheless very straightforward. It’s a felt stationary case with simple felt flowers attached to the top right corner. On the inside is a large pocket for pens and things and two strips of felt at top and bottom to hold writing paper. The front left edge has been cut with pinking shears. I’m very fond of this and I was inspired to make my partner a sketchbook case similar to this out of a light woolen fabric and vintage satin for christmas.
I bought this at a vintage linen fair in Upper Hutt a good few years ago. This annual event was a vintage lover’s dream (though there was always a mad, slightly unpleasant stampede when the doors opened) but I haven’t seen it advertised for the past two years, so maybe it’s not on anymore.
The last piece is what I presume to be a cotton stationary or writing case. It’s a flimsy number – the writing paper is what would have given it some solidity. A big ‘W’ is embroidered on one side, and simple squares and stars on the back. Similar to the felt case, it has pockets and strips on the inside. It looks to me like something a child might have made.
As much as I still love colorful embroidery and patterns, there’s something refreshing about these items. The makers didn’t feel the need to go to town with the decoration, maybe because they were amateur makers or perhaps because they liked simple things.
Handkerchiefs were at once homely domestic objects and fashion accessories. They were intended for a life of hard work or decoration only – many were both. Thanks to the introduction of tissues from the mid-20th century, hankies are no longer part of every woman, man and child’s wardrobe, which is why I talk about them in the past tense, though I’m sure they are still regularly used by some.
I have a collection of 70-odd hankies, which I inherited after my Nan moved into a retirement village. I’d never studied them properly until I decided to write a blog post on them.
Most are linen, some are cotton. A small number are silk, chiffon or acetate. Many have simple embellishments, some are heavily decorated and others are very plain indeed. White and cream predominates. All have a light, beautiful, powdery scent which probably comes from a drawer liner.
They were all folded into small squares, which presented me with a dilemma – do I unfold them? This may sound silly, but for all I knew they had been like this for decades. Some were beautifully folded. I was loath to disturb them for this reason.
I decided to unfold most and keep some folded as examples (see above). I also carefully ironed them. I’m glad I did, because I would never have discovered that many of these hankies probably belonged not to my nan Betty, but to her mother Florence (Flossie). Both were middle-class homemakers.
I realised this when I found her name – F Madill – written in fountain pen on a simple linen hanky. This one was obviously for every day use but nevertheless not to be lost! A couple also have the letter F appliqued on them.
Drawn work is the most common embellishment on these hankies. This is when small holes are made close together and tied at the ends to keep the squares open. It’s very pretty, delicate work. Here are some examples.
Another group are decorated with netting borders. Like some of the more decorative drawn work hankies, these were for decoration or extremely light work only.
Another one not designed for a woman with a cold is this beautiful and delicate organza hanky. The camera has played havoc with it I’m afraid – the centre’s gone a bit haywire.
Some of the hankies are very plain, with no borders or just one line of drawn work around the edges. Most though have decorative borders, which lift them from the mundane.
Lest you think my womenfolk were wholly conservative, demure ladies who never strayed beyond tasteful white or cream, here are some patterned examples.
Many of the hankies are embroidered, mainly in white and cream threads. This one is a departure from this theme.
Some still have labels precariously affixed to them.
Like the items Fran wrote about in her last blog (https://gloryboxtextiles.wordpress.com/2010/10/06/a-quick-word-2/), hankies were often kept in special boxes or bags. This small organza hanky bag also came to me by Nan – I think it was probably Flossie’s. My camera doesn’t like organza!
Some women kept clean and dirty hankies in bags that looked like small shirts. There’s one in Rosemary McLeod’s book Thrift to fantasy. These typed labels were intended for these – I wonder if any got made? It’s very twee.
Many of these hankies were used but some were clearly not. Flossie’s English cousin Jessie Batson sent her a birthday card which reads ‘These were bought in Switzerland – just a small token to show I have not forgotten this landmark’. The landmark is Flossie’s birthday. A stiff linen drawn work hanky is folded inside the card. It has a label which reads ‘hand work’ and could well be Swiss. I wonder if she used one and kept the other in the card for sentimental reasons?
Another gifted hanky remains in its cellophane wrapper, complete with Christmas card. I don’t know who the giver Margaret was.
Men are not entirely absent from this collection. There’s a few large, stained cotton hankies embroidered with the letter B – that’s my poppa Bruce. One is still in it’s wrapper, forever pristine.
What shall I do with all these hankies? They sat folded in my linen drawer for a few years until now. Recently I considered piecing some together to create an apron, but after looking at them properly I realised I don’t want to re-purpose them. Hankies they were, hankies they will stay. I do know that I won’t be using them to wipe tears, snot or brows. I may however, tuck one in a pocket for decorative effect every now and then.
After 30 years working with cloth, I find myself increasingly drawn to wool in fibre form. I thought some research was in order, so trotted off to the craft magazines section at the Wellington public library. I was immediately drawn to the image of a rug made of little woollen squares. The article described the rug as being the product of a “Weave-It” loom, a hand-held wooden frame with metal pins along each edge. It also recalled the perfect comforting warmth provided by a such a rug – then ended by saying the looms are no longer made and nearly impossible to find in second hand stores.
I decided this was a wool fibre technique I had to try, so I turned to the internet to track down one of these looms. On www.masez.com I found an image of the sort of rug I had read about in the library, and a picture of the “famous hand loom”. So simple, frugal and functional, and last manufactured in the time before zip codes. The more remote my chances of acquiring such a loom became, the more my longing increased.
Then I found www.eloomanation.com, complete with .pdf files of 1936 pattern books for garments made from four inch squares. The site was running a competition; the prize: an original Weave-it loom set, with both four inch and two inch frames (and a Hello Kitty tin!).
Given the quality of the weaving on the site, I thought my chance of winning this prize was slim. Nothing for it but to trawl the shops. By now I had heard of plastic versions, and had seen ones with wooden and metal pins. I wasn’t entirely sure what to ask for. Hooray for Goldings Handcrafts, stockists of a recreation of the Weave-it loom, from the Lacis Company. It is fairly primitive: a square of high density polystyrene, a vial of metal pins, and a card of graph paper.
The packaging also included a most appealing little pamphlet with instructions for a matinee jacket and a doll, which felt more achievable than a swagger coat…
Following the ‘walk before you run’ principle, I made a cushion cover! I used two solid colours and one variegated in various combinations. My edges are not as neat as the ones illustrated, so I rediscovered the joys of the crochet hook as a means of firming things up.
And that crochet hook led me to thinking about vintage crochet patterns (having made a truly horrible scarf and a slightly misshapen beanie in the first flush of excitement). These are not as common as the knitting patterns so wittily celebrated by Douglas Lloyd-Jenkins at the Hanging by a Thread symposium (see Fran’s summary here), but equally fabulous.
Once I have woven enough four inch squares for a coat, I am threatening to crochet this suit.