Fragments of antique cotton, silk, and lace, hand-stitched to tea-dyed vintage linen and cotton.
It only named itself this afternoon. The past is always present. We carry it with us wherever we go. I guess that’s what memory is.
And these fragments from the past are still present too. Clothing and accessories made by hands long dead and yet still here. Their voices still speak to us, and the sheer beauty of their work still moves us.
The fragment of MJ’s monogrammed chemise became a pocket for some vintage needles.
New stitches on old cloth, layering new memories over old ones
It hangs from some tea-dyed silk ribbon, which may or may not be strong enough – the cloth is heavier than it looks.
A short view of the other side:
There are lots of frayed and ragged edges. Time made visible. The marks made by a quilter’s needle are still visible in this fragile cotton:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Over halfway through December, and heading towards the darkest days of the year here in the UK.
I’ve learned such a lot through making this stitch journal. I no longer think of it as a journal though; it’s become more a collection of daily stitch meditations. I will certainly make something similar next year, though probably not exactly this design. If you want to try something like this, you can download a PDF with templates and notes here.
At least once a week someone asks me what the foundation fabric is. It’s this, a vintage French bed sheet, cotton/linen blend (sometimes called metis):
I will stitch on this fabric again next year. I probably have enough fabric here for another four daily stitch scrolls, if I stick to the long/thin format. I find it an easy shape to work on because you can roll up the ends as you go along, which keeps it fairly compact.
The sheet holds a few memories of its previous life, one of which is a hand-stitched seam down the centre. I’ve assumed that this was a sign that it had worn well enough for a previous owner to have turned it, because parts of the sheet I’ve been stitching on (a strip torn from the outer edge) had worn very thin. Turning is where you extend the life of an old sheet, which tends to wear most in the middle where you’ve been lying on it, by cutting it down the centre and then swapping the edges – so you then sew the original outer edges together, creating a central seam and letting the worn parts become the new outer edges. Someone from the past has hand-sewn this seam down the middle:
BUT there is also a darn on the outer edge, which is clearly a selvedge – so, given that the sheet appears to have been turned, but the new outer edges are selvedges (and not hemmed raw edges) I’m deducing that the fabric was possibly hand-woven on a home loom because it’s taken two widths to make one sheet. Hand looms created fabric with narrower widths than the big commercial looms, so the only way to create wider fabrics was to stitch narrower lengths together.
The sheet has been hemmed with impossibly tiny, regular stitches. I had assumed that this was machined, but I’ve unpicked a tiny bit and it’s just one single thread so has clearly been done by hand. It’s a very good quality fabric so will have been stitched and mended carefully.
The only thing I’ve been occasionally dissatisfied with this year is that the fabric is white. Sometimes I have wanted to stitch with white thread, and it just doesn’t show up well enough. The rule that I made for myself was no painting or dyeing, no added fabric or applique, just thread on a foundation. I don’t want to dye or paint it, because then I’d have to predetermine the colour, and I think that would create more limitations. I may, however, give it a very quick dip in some weak tea, just to knock back the whiteness but not enough to colour it too much.
I’m looking forward to revealing the whole thing at the end of the month. Yikes, that’s a week on Saturday! Hope you’re looking forward to seeing it too. In the meantime have a wonderful, peaceful festive season, and thank you for your friendship and support during 2022.