Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tale of a Tablecloth

Nina Lise, otherwise known in blogland as Mrs. Moen, is running a fun challenge at the moment. Many of my blogging friends in Europe are able to find incredible vintage tablecloths at second-hand shops: linen, cotton, printed, plain, you name it, they seem to find it! Nina Lise has issued a challenge to re-purpose old tablecloths into functional or creative artsy projects...she has already made some gorgeous pillow covers and small quilts. Today, Mette posted photos on her Erleperle blog of the pretty spring bag she made from a vintage table cloth, some hexes and lace.

I don't have a collection of old tablecloths and the few we do have in our linen closet are used on the table (when someone gets around to putting one on!). However, a few years ago my Grandfather gave me the most incredible gift. I was visiting Montreal at Christmastime for a few days. My Dad and I went together to help move my Grandmother from an average nursing home to a much nicer one. One evening while sitting in the living room back at their house Grandpa was asking about my life - we live very far apart and he wanted to know what I was up to. I told him that I had taken up quilting, was working in a shop part time and even teaching some classes. During our conversation, he walked over to the red vinyl footstool and opened the top. I was very surprised because that footstool had been in their living room my entire life and I never knew it opened, much less contained anything!

He reached inside and held up a dry-cleaning bag. "Would any of this be of use to you?" he asked. I took the bag of what appeared to be lace and more lace and carefully pulled everything out (I'm sure my eyes were like saucers and my mouth agape). I gasped, and asked "Oh my gosh, where did all this come from?" I never remembered my Dad's mom doing any handwork when I was little. Grandpa didn't know exactly (I think most of it had been around forever...likely my Great Grandmother made many of the items, or perhaps some came over from England at one point...we are many generations Canadian and the exact origin of a lot of things is a mystery). I wasn't sure what I would do with this jackpot, but one thing was for sure, it was coming out of that plastic!

So, home I came with tatted lace doilies, hardanger table mats, crocheted table mats and embroidered sugar sacks. Some work looks commercial, but its hard to tell. My Dad remembers ripping the stitches out of the flour sacks when he was a boy, so his Grandmother could wash, bleach and stitch on the cotton. I'm not one for lacy or fussy things, I love colour, so for me the most precious item was this beautiful summer table cloth that had never been used....the selvage still had the original stitching holes running down two sides and there wasn't a stain on it. It might be 60 years old, I have no way of knowing.

summer embroidery detail

I never met the woman who stitched this collection of delicious summer fruit and butterflies.

summer embroidery detail2

She is connected to me, not only by DNA, but also through our love of stitching with colourful thread. The collection of treasures given to me by my Grandfather still sits largely unused, but it is cherished and thought of often. I bordered this cloth and gave it a backing so I could admire the stitching on the table in my red kitchen, but turn it over when the food came out! NO food will ever be served on the stitching side! It is just too precious. It might have been more appropriate to use 30's repro prints, but they're not really our style. The red and blue floral prints (Peas n' Carrots, American Jane by Sandy Klop for Moda) are perfect, though.

summer embroidered table cloth

I would like to incorporate some of the other pieces into sewn projects for my family members one day. I have found some great inspiration on Flickr. If anything gets done, you'll be the first to know! Oh, and just because I know someone is going to ask, my Grandma passed away peacefully three years ago now, but Grandpa is alive and well, at 97, in Montreal.


Amy Friend said...

What an amazing gift! I am a lace girl...are you going to share pictures of it too?? Please? My Grandmother knew how to tat. By the time I was old enough and asked her to teach me, she had forgotten how. I have one piece that she made though which I treasure. Your tablecloth looks great!

9patchnurse said...

Wow! Love that, especially how you bordered it. So special. Thanks for sharing.

Nina Lise@Mrs Moen said...

Love your table cloth, Krista, and thanks for the "intro"!

Lisa W. said...

What a great story! Your table cloth looks fantastic, border and all! You are so lucky to have been given such a great gift.

Dianne said...

Although I have heard your story before and (I know your blog friends will be envious) seen the table cloth in person, I so enjoyed reading your post and seeing the table cloth again. How lovely!

Lenora said...

Love your story and photos! Vintage linen in Europe sounds really great at the moment too!

Anonymous said...

I have a wonderful collection of doilies and tablecloths from my maternal grandmother that my mother gave to me after my grandmother had passed away. I've been saving them in a box, not knowing what to do with them, but one of the table cloths that I had is being used in a project for my mother-in-law. A great way to use linens, when you won't use them on your table! And a lovely treasured keepsake, too!