Remembering Family through Needlework

Jun 10, 2014

“Mom, I’ve called to ask you the question you’ve been waiting for all my life. . . . Will you send me a doily?”

“Sure, but why?”

“I have a table that needs something to cover the top. I only need one. Don’t send me more than four.”

A few days later, I received six doilies in the mail showcasing all kinds of techniques: crochet, tatting, cutwork, drawn thread, knitting, and embroidery, plus others I can’t identify. It was just a tiny sample of the huge collection that lives in a highboy in my parents’ house, a collection that my mother treasures.

Portraits of some of the linens’ makers hang on the wall next to the highboy, and their names are spoken as though they were just in the next room: Helen Geneva, Elsa, Gussie Mae, Dorothy. Mom remembers who has made most of these pieces, but although she's told me I can't recall.

One piece I can identify is a filet crochet rectangle with the initials “DML,” for Dorothy Merrow Lovett. Dorothy was my great-aunt, and though I never saw her with hook in hand, she must have been fairly accomplished to create the even stitches and lovely finish of the piece. The classic serif font represents her beautifully.

Another piece from the same batch is a lacy, open square of tatting whose maker I can’t recall. Found in the group of needlework that my mother inherited from Dorothy, the piece is slightly discolored and extremely delicate but still lovely.

This piece reminds me of something my mother and I ought to do on my next trip home: Tag and label as many items we can with the little bit of information we have. In some cases it will be just initials; in others we can identify an approximate date of creation.

After all, my strongest connection to the women in my family may be the work of their hands. As the only daughter, I have the task of preserving their needlework and the stories my mother can share—and of creating my own memories in thread for future generations to wonder over.


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