I have worked with fiber as long as I can remember. Remember sewing cards? I loved them – kept me quiet for hours. Potholder looms were pretty cool, too. Still are actually. Clara (who works in the shop on Fridays) made the potholder below recently on her Harrisville Potholder Loom – who says they are just for kids? When we moved to town the fall of 2nd grade, I made a new friend, Hilda. She was retired and lived in a teeny tiny house on very tiny pension. Hilda supplemented her income by doing embroidery and crochet, mostly for baby things. I spent hours at her house learning both crochet and embroidery. She was the first one that introduced me to the concept that you should “slow down to go faster.” Actually, when I tried to thread a yard of embroidery floss in my needle so I didn’t have to replentish so often, she tutted, cut the thread in half and explained that the turtle won the race. Hilda also taught me that it was as important to the integrity of the product that the back be as tidy as the front.
Of course, my mom has knit almost every day since she was a teen, so I knew about knitting. But it was slow. Crochet went fast and embroidery was pretty! We grew up with a sewing machine in the living room. Sewing was no different to us than cooking. It was what we did. By the time Home Ec came along in high school, I was amazed to learn that everybody didn’t sew and cook like the Sheridan kids. Mom’s sewing machine is still in the same place and rarely does a day go by that she isn’t on it. To add to the fiber exposure that I took for granted, another neighbor, Thelma, had her very own room for spinning. It was a whitewashed room in the corner of their barn/garage and it had big windows so it was light an airy and, well, mesmerizing when the wheel was going.
So, you see, I was primed at a very early age for appreciating fibers and handwork of all kinds. I collected my first vintage piece of fabric when I was in 7th grade and have been gathering them ever since. Now when I look at the pillow I bought from a neighbors estate sale, I know it is blockprinted handspun and handwoven cotton and probably made in Persia (now Iran). Then, it was just exotic. It still lives in my fiber room.
My collecting vintage and antique textiles has been a great learning experience and I know I have only just begun to scratch the surface in this learning process. My most favorite things to collect are old everyday textiles that are handwoven or simply unique. Towels, table linens, coverlets, and doilies crocheted, knit and woven. They are such an inspiration. A recent piece that I acquired is a filet crochet image of the Statue of Liberty and it says “Liberty for All.” My mom remembers it being displayed on their coffee table when she was young. It was likely worked by “Anna in Detroit,” a family relative. It is this piece that has made me want to learn more. I found the original magazine from 1919 that featuring Mary Card’s Statue of Liberty. Unfortunately, readers had to send 10 cents in to get the pattern, which I have yet to locate. So, the quest continues. I think it would be cool to have all three pieces together in one place. Another family textile is pictured at the beginning of this post, also worked by Anna. It is a lace-edged linen pillowcase worked in an extremely fine gauge.
All of these pieces got me thinking, if they were made then, there’s no reason they can’t be made now. So, I’m working on translating some of the textiles into patterns that can be woven, knit or crocheted in today’s yarns. Some pieces will be reproductions, others inspired by the original in modern colors or in an entirely different form altogether. The first pattern that will be available is a scarf based on grandma’s pillowcase. If all goes well, you should be able to knit it by the end of the year. This project will probably last for the rest of my life, but I know it will be rewarding in many ways.
I’d love to see some of your collected or family pieces. Show and tell is always fun. A few months ago, Clara brought in a bin of textiles that she inherited from her aunt. We found some lovely, fun pieces when we looked through it, including an absolutely stunning needle-point picture. Looking through the box was so fascinating. A real poupourri of goodies. We found handwoven and embroidered towels, table linens, aprons (they were fun!), slip/nightie, crocheted doilies, woven cocktail napkins. She allowed me to choose a few pieces for my collection. One of the things that is fun about a looking at these textiles is not just admiring them, but also
putting a story to them. The older pieces scream for a story, even a made-up one. Sometimes just holding them gives me shivers. They make me feel a very real connection to the past. As the textile collection grows, so does our collection of vintage and antique patterns and books that support them. We are in the process of cataloging these book and patterns and they are available by appointment for you to see.