Women’s Work

Today’s mail held a treasure I’ve been looking forward to seeing!  Last week on Etsy I found a vintage bedsheet with matching bolster pillow that had been embroidered in counted cross stitch and bordered with laddered hemstitch.  The sheet itself is a luxurious, heavy weight French ‘metis,’ which is 65% linen and 35% cotton. According the to vendor, Hanky Heiress, this fabric blend was developed to be an ‘easy-care alternative’ to 100% linen sheets.  Look how beautiful it is!

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Here it is opened up across my bed.  The blue and orange cross stitch look wonderful on my vintage, machine woven, overshot bedspread!  I’m thrilled!

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The seller of this sheet and bolster set believes it’s from the 1960s, and she speculated that that they have never been used.  Now that I’ve seen it firsthand, I agree with her.  Who knows where it originated; by the time I found it, it was residing with an Etsy vendor in Cheshire, England. What a sad thing that it may have spent 50 years in a drawer or closet.  I have been imagining various scenarios in which this might happen, and the only that makes sense to me is that someone made this as a gift for someone else.  Perhaps it was a wedding gift, with the two initials signifying the union of two different names.  I can only imagine that the woman who did this put so much love into this gift.  It is truly a treasure!  And I’d like to think that the woman who received it loved it so much that she was hesitant to actually use it.  Well, I intend to use it, and I intend to enjoy it.  I will always think of this story that I have created to go with it.  I feel it has good potential for being true!

It amazes and inspires me that women (and men too) have been making and embellishing textiles since the dawn of humanity.  There’s a reasonable chance that textiles are older than pottery, as Elizabeth Weyland Barber has speculated.  It seems we are hardwired to surround ourselves with the work of our hands.

In early April I learned that our friend Hank, had arrived in Havana on his boat and would soon try to deliver all the all donations of lace-making materials to the woman I met last year.  I wrote about the lace makers last year while Bob and I were visiting Cuba on our boat. Due to lack of communication in Cuba as well as while sailing offshore, I did not get confirmation of the delivery until mid-May.  What an emotional moment that was for me!  And I understand there were few tears shed by Hank and his wife, along with the women who received this bounty, and even the male interpreter!  I cried myself when I saw the photos and this wonderful video that Hank and Seale made for me.

When Bob and I first hatched this idea of sending materials to Cuba, neither we nor Adriana fully realized the effort involved.  I had been quite saddened to see the poor quality materials women had access to–sewing thread used in multiple plies for embroidery and crochet, and poor quality knitting and crochet yarns that looked like some Russian version of Lily’s “Sugar N Cream” yarn–and only available in one color  —  Ecru!  Mailing gifts is simply not possible, since all mail is opened and usually the contents are ‘re-purposed.’  Even making a face to face delivery had a high degree of risk for confiscation.  Adriana and Hank worked out the best plan they could come up with, and still both of them were worried about being discovered.   It is forbidden in Cuba to have guilds or groups, so the women who meet to do various types of lace together have to be quite careful.  I am so relieved that this venture was a success!

This is now my favorite photo of Adriana, where she looks like a young woman again, full of excitement for the many projects that lay ahead for her and all the other women she tutors in lace techniques. I can almost see the ideas starting to swirl in her head!

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Here is photo of the stash before Bob and I packed it up in four extra-large vacuum seal bags.  In early January, Bob sailed to the British Virgin Islands, where he transferred the stash to Hank’s boat.  In early April, Hank sailed for Cuba as the leader of a rally of sailboats that would spend two weeks in Havana.

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Best of all, here are some photos of Adriana’s lace work that I bought from her last April.  First a Torchon  doily that I gave as a present at my lace group’s annual holiday party.

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And two pieces of Adriana’s tape lace that I kept for myself.

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The work of our hands–across the decades– and across the world.  And this is just the tip of the tip of what is out there in the world.

 

 

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One Response to Women’s Work

  1. Kerry says:

    This is a wonderful post! I sell vintage linens on Etsy and am forever coming up with stories to flesh out the backstories of my favorite pieces! Your bed linens are beautiful and I like to think that the maker would feel fulfilled that her work is being appreciated. And what an amazing thing you’ve done for your Cuban friends!

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