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Monday, March 5, 2018


I have a box of hand-embroidered lace given to me many years ago by an elderly relative. She grew up at a time before department stores. Nowadays when we need clothes, we have many options. We shop at Macy’s or Old Navy or Target, or any one of hundreds of other retailers—either in brick-and-mortar stores or online. Hard as it may be for us to imagine, no such establishments existed back when this relative grew up. Women sewed their families’ clothing—from undergarments to outerwear and everything in-between. Wealthier women hired seamstresses to make the clothes for them.

Such was the case with this family member. However, although the ladies of the house didn’t stitch their own garments, they did embroider and crochet the embellishments that decorated the garments. Needlework was considered a proper pastime for upper-crust ladies and was even taught in finishing schools. Being adept with a needle was considered a necessity for a good match.

Every season the seamstress would come to the home of this relative where family members would choose fabrics and styles and be measured for new outfits. Older garments would be handed down to household staff or donated to the poor. However, before doing so, the ladies of the house would remove all the crocheted and embroidered embellishments from the garments to reuse on new garments.

In addition to embellishing garments with needlework, these women would decorate linen with embroidery and lace trims, beginning as young girls as they worked on items for their trousseaus. They’d also embroider hankies. Facial tissues weren’t invented until 1924 and were first marketed as a way to remove cold cream, not for blowing one’s nose.

So going back to that box of hand-embroidered lace, most of it continues to sit in the box. Back in the 1980’s lace embroidery became popular again when decorators and fashion designers rediscovered Victorian style and Laura Ashley was all the rage. These days most of us are not into crocheted antimacassars and other assorted froufrou.

Still, there are a few pieces of embroidery in that box that are too beautiful not to showcase. One is the hankie shown above. So I carefully mounted it on a piece of black fabric and framed it. If you have some needlework family heirlooms, you might consider displaying them in this manner to preserve and showcase them. Just make sure you use archival quality materials and use spacers between the fabric and glass to prevent mildew and fabric rot from moisture that could get trapped within the frame.


Angela Adams said...

After looking at that photo for a few minutes, I started thinking that the pattern would make a pretty 18th century dress.


You'd need quite a few hankies, Angela, and you'd definitely have to wear a full slip underneath. ;-)