I keep in storage a box filled with 94 vintage pieces of linen and lace, and an antique silk flowered shawl with long, swaying fringes.
All heirlooms, all worked by the matriarchs of the White and Coats families, small-town Tennessee residents. Artists.
The women of my family. Who specifically made these creations we can’t be sure, though my great aunt is a good bet. She was known as an adept with textiles. A tatting shuttle and a crochet hook were surely in her arsenal.
I take them out these pieces now and again. Take a moment from my contemporary concerns. Pause. Lay them out on the bed.
Stand back to admire them.
The colors. Pink.
Run my fingers over the bumps of the embroidery, the open work of the tatting. I think I am in love with this lace and its delicate carnations. Do you like the fragrance of a carnation as much as I do?
Someone, sometimes, followed a ready-made pattern – you can see the ink on half-finished fabric.
I wonder, what inspiration drove the women who came before me to make these brilliant textile works? Because it surely wasn’t necessity. No one could use this many antimacassars or table runners, this many doilies.
Although I do see something occasionally that bespeaks everyday life, and these pieces leave me utterly moved. A woven brassiere. (A training bra? So small!)
A linen collar with mother-of-pearl buttons.
In the rural America of the early twentieth century, there were beans to be snapped, pickles to be put up, floors to be mopped, and even chickens to be wrung by the neck. Yet these people took time, so much time, to make beauty with flash out of plain thread and cloth.