We all have some – the precious, fragile treasures that are taken out from time to time, admired, and then carefully laid back in their box. Relics from another age, fragments of a life long ago laid aside. Somehow they stay with us, surviving war, flood, and other catastrophes.

Vintage/antique lace and trim

They’re far too lovely to live in a box, but that’s probably the best place for them, long term. I’ve chosen a few very fragile, ragged fragments and I’m in the process of stitching them to a long, layered cloth made from pieces of vintage linen and cotton.

Long cloth in progress

I’ve had these beautiful lace fabrics for many years, and somehow it just seems time for them to be out in the world again. The vintage embroidered monogram below had been glued to a paper label by its manufacturer, and is gradually coming away. The paper is very fragile, but I want to stitch the whole piece to this cloth so I’ve stabilised the paper by brushing acrylic medium on the back and then sticking it to some antique cotton bobbinet. I don’t know if this will hold, but it feels a lot more robust than it did.

Vintage French embroidered monogram

The very fine cotton cutwork trim on the section below has been hand-embroidered, and was once part of a petticoat. The monogrammed silk fragment is from a chemise, also hand-stitched.

Antique cutwork and fragment from silk chemise

The tiny pintucks in this silk are from a christening dress. Looking at the quality of the machine stitches, I think it’s probably been sewn on a manual treadle machine.

Silk with pintucks

And the nineteenth-century fragment below, impossibly fine, is from a tippet, a cross between a shawl and a scarf, worn around the neck or shoulders. The fabric is thinner than tissue paper.

Fragment of embroidered tippet, about 1.5” square

The embroidery stitches are tiny, and I think it’s been done by hand. If you look at the back, it lacks the rigid regularity that machine work has.

Embroidered fragment, back

Inevitably, as I’m stitching, I’m thinking about the women who made and wore these fabrics. It seems strange to think of them as dead, when what they left behind is so alive and has such presence. There is a kind of sadness, a touch of the Miss Havisham, perhaps, about this piece; but there’s also an immense strength and a palpable sense of survival. How something can be so insubstantial, so easily torn, so translucent, and yet still so strong and beautiful, amazes me every time.

Author: Karen

Textile and mixed media artist

17 thoughts on “Haunting”

  1. The sheer beauty and fragility of these fabrics almost take away my breath. Your writing is so sensitive and lovely that I imagine I can almost feel the delicate pieces in my hands. And now these treasures are being given new life. What joy!

    1. Thanks so much, Stephanie. There really is joy here, and I wish the original makers could see them again. The feel of these treasures in the hands is precious beyond words, there is nothing like them in our modern world.

  2. I found a collection of lace doilies from an Estate of a woman on Shaw Island who collected antique lace. Her family was selling her collection to pay for her care in a medical facility. I stitched these lovely pieces with silk thread to a melton wool (dark green) vest that I made. Every stitch caused me to marvel at the workmanship of the lace. The legacy of a woman–unnamed.

    1. What a wonderful story Janet, and such a privilege to find a way to let these treasures live again. The skill in the handwork here is breathtaking.

    1. It’s really beautiful isn’t it? Been looking for a while now for somewhere to use it.

  3. Yes, these fabrics are the best. I have collected such pieces for years too and often wonder who they belonged to and what their lives were like. I love your posts and pictures, thanks for sharing!

  4. I so needed the pictures and your thoughts today. Your very sensitive words reminded me of the extraordinary words of writer Jacqueline winspear. She too has a strong sense of what we as humans can feel and enjoy. We only need to be aware.

    1. Thank you, Gale – I’m not familiar with Jacqueline Winspear but awareness and connection are really important.

  5. what a lovely post. so much to consider. thanks for sharing your inspirations and creativity and wonderment of
    all things done by hand. such sweetness.

    1. Thanks so much, Deb. I really enjoyed working with these fragile pieces of the past.

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: