By the time I was 16, I had developed an interest in vintage textiles. I did not seek to collect them, but over the years knitted, crocheted, quilted and woven textiles found their way to me. Mostly, they were handed on from relatives or friends of my mother’s generation who were making their lives lighter by giving away things they treasured, but no longer cared to keep.
One of those items was a large crocheted piece which came to me from, Elsie, a family member who shared my interest in crocheting. She had begun making motifs for the piece in the late 1940s or early 1950s, crocheting one hexagonal shape at a time and joining them together as she completed each one. Her intent was to make a bedspread, but by the time she had completed several hundred of the motifs, she grew tired of it, folded it up, put it away and forgot about it — until the day she fetched it from a closet and asked me if I’d like to have it.
I took it home with me and for years it served as a tablecloth, pressed into service each time Thanksgiving and Christmas rolled around.
I had no desire to add motifs to the piece, even if it had been possible to find crochet cotton in the right weight and shade of white. I didn’t mind the uneven edges or the odd shapes of the edges of the piece, which held in their configuration the story of Elsie’s creative process. What I also liked was its beauty, and that Elsie held me in high enough esteem to entrust me with something she had spent so many hours of her life creating.
Eventually, when I found myself with children grown and living alone in a small house with a table too small to accommodate the lacy cloth, I devised a way to hang the piece from a tension rod to serve as a curtain across the entry of a closet that had no door. And there it stayed for more than a dozen years.
But email changed my thinking about that.
I reconnected through email several years ago with Elsie’s daughter, who lives in Florida and who now has granddaughters and great-granddaughters of her own. One of those granddaughters, who also lives in Florida, has an interest in family history and likes to hear stories about her great-grandmother. She also has an affection for objects that once belonged to her great-grandmother.
As I digested that information, I thought about how much I treasured things my grandmother and great-grandmother had made. In most families there emerges a member of the younger generation who is destined to become the keeper of the family history and to whom family items find their way. I decided it was time for me to hand the crocheted piece on to this young woman in Florida — a woman I have never met, but about whom I have heard so much thanks to an email correspondence with her grandmother.
I liberated the piece from the tension rod, washed and ironed it, packed it up and sent it to its new owner. I included a note telling her what I knew about the piece, when and how it was made, when I obtained it, how it had been used while in my possession, and that she now was the keeper of this handmade bit of her family’s history.
I like to think of her spreading the cloth on her table at holiday time as she and her family gather around to carve the turkey. I feel certain her great-grandmother, Elsie, were she still around to know what I have done with her handiwork, would approve.
Most of us who stitch and sew have accumulated handmade textiles over the years that eventually must be passed on to another generation. It’s a good idea to look around in the family and determine who has a reverence for family history, a reverence for lace, quilting, knitting and crocheting — all the tangible work of a woman’s fingers — and hand it on.
Hampden Historical Society members are in the process of planning their annual Christmas bazaar and are seeking those who wish to contribute their creative talents and handmade goods to the bazaar, a fundraiser for the organization. For information, call Jerry Stanhope, historical society president, at 862-3463.