Still Life from Quimper

Still Life from Quimper
A shot of an almost-completed still life needlepoint

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So very happy you came to visit. Now, pull up a chair, pour a glass of your favorite beverage, and read on about adventures in needlework.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Stamped Pillowcases and Their Story

Or, how I learned the value of not letting something sit unstitched for too long . . .

Yes, that was a valuable lesson. About 20 years ago, I attended a feminist bookfair that was a wonderful, mind-blowing experience. Imagine, in a great ship-building hall in Barcelona where the 3 ships were built in which Columbus arrived at the New World, complete with a life-size replica of the Santa Maria, becoming for one week a hall dedicated to books. And these were not just any books, oh no, preciousss. These were books written by women. About women. Published by women-owned publishing houses. Bought for women-owned bookstores. It was probably the most eye-opening instance in which I learned that I, too, could be the center of a story: mine. It was also the only overseas trip during which I have not purchased a copy of Lord of the Rings, one of my travel musts. This time, the purchase just didn't seem, well, appropriate. Never mind that Eowyn was one of my role models . . . this one experience was a time in which I learned that women, too, had lives that were meaningful. But that's another story.

So one of the books I bought was called Night Train to Mother and involves an American woman returning to her mother's and grandmother's homeland in Romania to learn about their lives as Jewish women before and during the Nazi and Communist occupation. While she tells the tale of her grandmother's life, the fact that an engagement took a year came up as well as the reasoning behind it: it took a year to embroider all of the towels and sheets that the young woman would need for her new home. After all, in her class, the sheets were changed once a week and washed twice a year. So think about it - a woman would need to embroider at least 26 sets of sheets and all accoutrements: sheets, bottom sheets, pillow cases, extra pillow cases, sheets for the guest rooms (presumably), and this was a huge undertaking in a young woman's family. You couldn't do that much hand work any faster than a year. You just couldn't. After all, you still had to help take care of your mother's house, your younger brothers and sisters, be measured for the clothes you'd wear for your first year, make your wedding gown . . . the list goes on.

That knowledge inspired me to go to Mrs. Dennis' soon afterwards, where I purchased some pre-printed embroidered pillow cases. I had not done embroidery for quite some time - I was mostly doing counted cross stitch and needlepoint - but I loved the lavender color threads that the pattern called for and so I threw all caution to the wind and purchased the set. For any DMC geeks out there, I used #550 as the darkest shade of purple, with #3041 and #3042 for the blue and lighter purple. But I digress.

During this time I was working at a local pub, so for the first time since college I had days off since I worked nights. Did I stitch or what?! I re-crocheted my first afghan, including taking all the tassels off, so that it looked more like a rectangle and less like a trapezoid. I also began this, my first pillowcase, thinking about how this was part of my trousseau, my own Hope Chest, and it was the first thing I did for a potential new home with a husband. A husband was a vague concept, a person with whom I would share my life with a few years later, after I had had a few more adventures of my own. After all, Eowyn was my role model, 'member?

I finished this pillow case about a year later. When I got married. Happily, I might add, but more quickly than I had anticipated the summer before. Nope, no baby on the way - just realized that it was time to get married and have the adventures all the same. We used the finished pillow case for a while, but the case got messy as pillow cases do and I just didn't want all my hard work to get torn up by the washing machine. So I put it away and moved onto other things. Like buying my shop . . .

Fast forward to the summer of 2008. I'm in the process of closing my brick-and-mortar shop, I no longer need to stitch shop models, all my knitting is finished for the time being, and it's time for me to finish some things for me. Like a long-neglected Cherry Blossom Fairy from the Cicely May Barker series (kit from early 1980's), the Lopi purse, and hey, here's that old pillow case from 1991. I think I'll finish it, since we have an extra set of pillows on the bed from the time that Webmaster Bill broke his leg and needed extra pillows to prop it up. And oh look, I still have the plastic embroidery hoop, the needle hasn't rusted too bad, and wow! Here are all the threads, all ready to go for the 2nd pillowcase! OK, let's see where that pattern is, the one printed on the pillow case . . .

And now we run into the question you may have asked yourself. I know that I have been asked from time to time at the shop: "How long does this blue dye stay on the fabric?" Well, friends, it does come off. Oh yes, preciousss, it does fade. I'd say about 17 years after buying something pre-printed, the dye fades. Yes, yes it does.

Fortunately, I had a) finished the first pillowcase so that I could use it as a reference, and b) had enough light to see what was left of those little blue lines, but wow, it was not the most fun stitching I've ever done. I mean, seriously. I had counted on a couple of hours every few evenings, working on a couple of flowers or leaves, but wow. One leaf stitched was a good evening. I don't think I've ever taken out work as consistently as I have with this pillowcase. There's still a wonky blue petal on one of the flowers, but I decided it was flourishing to its own inner flower voice and I just wasn't going to tweak it any more.

So last weekend, I finished the second pillowcase and now both are covering the extra Target pillows that we still have. I saw no sense in throwing them out, and really, having that extra set of pillows makes my bed look like something out of the JC Penney or other [insert catalog/ magazine name here] pretty photo of bedrooms. The photos are below. Perhaps you have a set of pillowcases, languishing in a basket or a drawer. If so, I'd advise taking them out fairly soon and finishing them. Feel free to share your experiences here . . .

This is the original one. The colors faded a little from going through the washing machine. And there are tiny little sets of grey threads that serve as a border between the bouquet and the rest of the violets.
Here's a close-up of the stitched bouquet. The purple is a bit more prominent here and the pink bow has faded a bit, but you get the general idea.

They're nice, big pillowcases, too. Here's a photo of the second one - it's a little wrinkled, but I'm not that worried about a few wrinkles. I managed to stitch the darn thing, after all!

And close-up of the second one. Just so it didn't feel neglected.

And here they are, snuggled up together. The pillowcases for my trousseau. I feel so accomplished. I cannot imagine the amount of work it would have taken a hundred years ago or more, to have spent all one's free time stitching these, perhaps even knitting lace to attach along the edge of each pillow case. How very talented these women were.