Julia. 84. Toronto, Canada.

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Textiles have been part of my life since learning to knit at the age of 4.

I have explored weaving, cross stitch and needlepoint, but crochet and knitting are my constant companions. Many years ago I discovered Tunisian crochet which is a complete marriage of knitting and crochet that produces a wonderful woven fabric. I have a passion for colour and found this a great medium for my designs. 

As there were no patterns available for the colour inlay technique  I was forced into designing my own pieces. There have been many missteps along the way, but I have learnt a lot. I worked as an occupational therapist in the field of psychiatry for 50 years, and am now enjoying being an education volunteer at the Textile Museum of Canada, such a joy.

The attached picture is of a crib blanket I made as a gift for my friend Doris’s grandchild. You will see a camel in one of the squares – that is a thank you for Doris introducing me to beautiful Morocco and our subsequent 7 trips together! The colours and designs of Morocco have had an enormous influence on my work as you will see from the picture attached below.

You can see more of Julia’s work over on fibrefantastics.com.

Diana H. Germany.

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Diana shared something she wrote about her grandmother’s wedding dress:

My grandmother wore black at her wedding. She wanted to be different, to break rules, to stand her point, you might think.

I thought so too when I scrolled through the pictures in the family photo album. All the brides wore white, ivory or cream – except her.

Decades later I came to the explanation why she chose that colour: she married a widower.

When my grandfather’s first wife died in late spring of that year, she left 4 children behind, age 7 to 13.

My grandfather remarried in autumn. Doing this he broke a significant social rule of his time: After the death of a spouse a whole year of mourning period had to be formally fullfilled before remarriage.

My grandmother wore black at her wedding day because it was still the official mourning period for her husband. What she did was a kind of obeisance for his deceased wife. No act of rebellion, but one of modesty.

When you look at people’s actions, mere assumptions can lead to complete wrong conclusions concerning people’s reasons and motives. You always need background information, about the culture, the society, the setting in which people grew up, to understand their values and their deeds.

A few days ago, she also shared this with me:

Another, more personal memory of my family’s remarkable “black dress” I wrote about the impression the picture of my grandma in her wedding dress made on me:  

I first saw that picture when I was a four or five year old child. I remember very well my astonishment: Brides always wear white gowns (and there were many brides in the family album, dressed in perfect white), so why did she wear black?   Since I could remember I felt like a kind of stranger in my family; as if I didn’t belong, the ugly duckling. I stared so many times at the wedding picture of my grandmother and imagined my own marriage to-be also in black. For the little granddaughter the black wedding dress was full of symbolism, in equal measure a symbol for the commitment to one’s own individuality (to wear black when one should wear white) and for the possibility to live a ‘normal’ life even as a stranger (to belong, to be married).  

Through my adulthood I occasionally wore and wear the famous ‘little black dress’. Although some of these dresses were really gorgeous, they are long forgotten. I never married, so none of my black dresses could have been as magical as the black dress my grandmother wore as a wedding gown.

Thanks for sharing, Diana!

Catherine. 60. Marble Falls, Texas. USA.

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Dear Textiles,

A piece of work that holds particularly fond memories for me is a stained and worn potholder –

In the late 60’s and early 70’s, my sister and I threw ourselves completely into the embroidered clothing craze when all the cool hippie chicks were adding crewel work flowers, dogs, fish, feathers and every groovy motif to overalls, denim shirts, oxford shirts, jeans and everything else that was hanging in their closets. 

Though I  had never even threaded a needle before, my big sis patiently taught me how to get started on an old pink cotton camp shirt.  For unremembered reasons, I decided to make a snarky looking black outline of an owl on the shirt, filling in parts of the body with red satin (like) stitches.  

Although that first embroidered owl led to a lot of other embroidered clothing, I kept that shirt all through childhood moves, college and beyond, holding it as a talisman of my sisterly bond.  Eventually, I cut the owl out and made it into a potholder, which I kept in the drawer by the stove, using it to pull hot pies and cakes from the oven and to grab pot handles when the pasta needed a stir.

Sadly, when the fashion for embroidered clothes died out at the end of the 70’s, so did our interest, so needles and hoops were put away and forgotten until, just a few years ago, I rediscovered the therapeutic value of stitching.

After I started seriously embroidering, I remembered my little owl, and went looking for it at the bottom of the kitchen drawer.  It wasn’t there.  I felt very sad when I couldn’t find my owl, but I figured it had gotten lost in a move or accidentally thrown away.  

Then a year or so ago, while visiting my older son at his post college apartment, I opened a drawer to help him with something on the stove and there was my faded little owl embroidered on the shabby pink fabric.  That silly little owl, sitting in a drawer in a Cambridge Bachelor Pad, had been actualized as a bona fide piece of art: it had been loved by another, and kept as a precious (though utilitarian) object.

Here is a photo of the potholder, stains and all:

Since picking up my needles again about 5 years ago, I have created hand embroidered work that has been shown all over the United States and the UK.  I have won prizes for my work, sold many pieces to happy collectors, and have lectured and taught embroidery, just the same way my big sister taught me those many years ago.

You can find out more about Catherine at catherinehicksart.com.

Lora. 27. Oregon. USA.

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Dear Textiles,

I had a needle and thread in my hand before I ever learned to read or write. They are the one thing I feel like I have in common with my family outside of my blue eyes and the ubiquitous “Kramer nose”. My family doesn’t say “I love you” to one another with words so much as we say it with sets of embroidered tea towels or crocheted afghans.

For my fourth birthday, I received toy trucks from my uncles and this yellow quilt with appliqued butterflies on it from my grandmother. To be honest, the toy trucks were more my speed. I hate yellow, and I’ve never really like butterflies. Regardless, this quilt warmed my bed throughout my childhood.

As I got older, spring breaks and summers found me up at my grandparents’ house “on the hill”. I alternated between shadowing my grandpa as he puttered around the back yard, and standing over a quilt sandwiched on a tabletop alongside my mom and grandmother. Like birds of prey, we dove down into the layers of fabric and batting with curved needles, scooping them together with short lengths of yarn.

In my family, I grew into the one who got good grades, the one who graduated from college, and the one who moved away. First, it was three hours away. Now, it’s states away. As I loaded my car to move that first time – and every time I’ve done it since – my back seat was full of blankets and quilts made by the women in my family.

The last few times I visited my parents, the same yellow, butterfly appliqued quilt was still on my bed. Twenty-three years later, it was threadbare in places, and the batting had grown lumpy and shredded. Armed with a seam ripper apiece, my mom and I sat in front of the TV on New Year’s Eve, removing the binding and the original ties to separate the quilt top. It came home to Oregon with me.

I’ll probably never say “I love you” with words, but I feel love as I am slowly working my way through restoring this quilt top, embroidering yellow flowers in a copycat of my grandma’s perfect and tiny stitches, and mending places the fabric is worn through. Eventually, I’ll get to re-quilting and binding this quilt.

One thing is for sure: I’ll never be cold.

Love,
Lora

(Note: You can find Lora on Instagram at @loramakesthings.)

Betsy. 44. Durham, NC. USA.

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Dear Textiles,

I’ve taken some time out from stitching after having it be a companion in my life for almost 20 years, which is, in the stitching world, not very long. But, if I’m really honest about it, stitching became a presence in my life long before that point when I was 25. 

It started in my grandmother’s living room in north Georgia when I was maybe 11 or 12, So the mid-1980s. She taught me how to cross-stitch. I sat in my grandfather’s big leather chair and fumbled with the tiny stitches, a cow bookmark I had picked out for my mother at the craft store. 

My grandmother could be stern, but when it came to crafts, she was all about the love they provide. After I learned at her house, I stitched a few things here and there, not really picking craft back up until I was living far away from the South, and found myself in New York City. I found something sacred in the softness of the yarn and the click of the needles even though my first scarf was crooked and full of holes. I found that there was a sense of kind power in the making of something from nothing. 

And when I started writing about crafts and activism, it was her I was thinking of, making baby hats for newborns in the hospital she volunteered with. She would have never called herself an activist, but, boy, did she make the world better with her own two hands. Quietly. Deftly. In objects that were given to babies born to relatives and strangers and community members. 

Decades later, when I was visiting her at her retirement home, after the death of my grandfather and uncle, her son, who both died within a span of three days, she wordlessly tucked a round needlepoint pillow underneath my arm. It was black with a pink flower. She had a habit of giving things away to people she thought might appreciate them and this was no different. This was before dementia kept her from speaking or connecting. The last few times I was with her, I remember her watching and enjoying two things, my dog’s tongue licking her hand and my hands knitting.

The pillow lived on a chair in my bedroom for awhile, but now it lives on my sofa. And I know she’d be happy to see it be used to prop my boyfriend’s head up behind the back of the couch when we’re sitting on it and at how my dog, Sadie, sometimes uses it as a dog-sized pillow. 

When I look at this pillow, I think of all the times I’d have a question about knitting something or that time I couldn’t figure out how to crochet an edge and she sat down next to me and patiently showed me how to work the yarn. At how she kept stitching through breast cancer and my grandfather’s own cancer battles and heart attack. At how she made me two pairs of the exact same socks, wanting to make sure that she had given me something to keep my feet warm. 

She could be strict, yes, but would melt when it came to stitching. I used to think it was the knitting circle I joined in New York that welcomed me into the craft community, but the more I think about it, it was her and her quiet acceptance and patience when I got the stitches wrong or tangled the thread or had a question. 

She died a few summers ago, and right before then didn’t even seem to know on my last visit that there were seven of her family members in the room with her. But, she still shows up when I look at the pillow. Like she showed up whenever I stitched. I put my needles down for many reasons, but it’s time to pick them up again, I’ve been buoyed by all the craft stories I’ve studied about strength in the arpilleristas, Jim Simpson, the women of Greenham Common, Gandhi’s khadi movement. But know there are many other stories to be heard too. Quiet ones, loud ones, family ones, stories wondered about found objects in thrift stores or Etsy, stories of craft that embed themselves in our lives and help make us stronger and more resilient in their essence and detail and memory. 

My grandmother’s stitches live on in both in the things that she made me and in the things that I make now. I’d love to hear your own stories about stitches and textiles, stories of love or strength or mystery or kindness or skill or a million other things. This story is just one story. I’d love to hear yours too. 

Love, Betsy