A Stitch in Time

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.

circle lace on green

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.

circle lace cu

I take them out these pieces now and again. Take a moment from my contemporary concerns. Pause. Lay them out on the bed.

lace cu 2

Stand back to admire them.


How intricate.

lace cu

The colors. Pink.

pink lace


blue lace

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.

kit 2

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.

lace on green

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.



Filed under Art, Culture, Fashion, History, Home, Jean Zimmerman

10 responses to “A Stitch in Time

  1. Pingback: Crushes on Crutches | Jean Zimmerman

  2. Thanks Lisa. When I first cleaned and ironed them, I remember giving some pieces away at my house in Hastings. I hope you chose something you love.

  3. Lucky you to have these skills. Highly unlikely today, but something to feel proud of.

  4. If we spent more time tatting and less on our computers we could also create beautiful works… maybe.

  5. Lisa Morrel

    Hi Jean. Thank you so much for posting those pics…SO neat!!!!



  6. Lori

    I am thinking that ‘small brassiere’ might be the lace top of a little girl’s apron, or something intended to be the top of an apron. I remember seeing lace tops on little girl’s aprons and thinking they were so pretty.

  7. Lori

    When I was a girl I watched my mother knit sweaters with raglan sleeves and appliqued pockets. She also sewed dresses and nighty-gowns for my sisters and I. I wanted to learn, so when I was 7 or so she taught me the basics of what she knew. Then I went to a 4-H Knitting club and learned more. Mother also taught me to sew on her old Singer sewing machine. I taught myself to crochet from a book, then took up making Granny Squares when that became the rage. Home Economics was still taught, so I learned more about sewing there, but I knew more about crocheting and knitting than the teacher did so I taught those to the class.
    My father’s mother taught me to tat. She also taught myself and my sisters a little about weaving, embroidery, needlepoint, stitchery, and other things she knew. When I was a teenager I wanted to learn macrame, which was in fashion then, so my grandmother taught me and my sisters how to do macrame. I got a book and taught myself more intricate knots.
    Now I teach what I know. I love exploring the internet to find out more, such as this one: http://www.cowperandnewtonmuseum.org.uk/lace-making/


    My great aunt Lizzie was a banker’s wife in a small town… with no children. My mother was her favorite niece… so my mother had drawers full of Aunt Lizzie’s doilies and antimacassars. For her sister’s wedding in 1893 … Aunt Lizzie embroidered a coverlet of hand-woven linen (seamed down the middle because the loom wasn’t wide enough to produce a cloth big enough to cover the wedding bed)… fancy embroidered initials with padding beneath the stitching.

    My mother didn’t care for the coverlet that had been her mother’s… it was a drop cloth for painting some walls .. splatters of a nice robins-egg blue. In 1980 I rescued the embroidery and had it cut down and framed… my niece has it now.

    Ladies prided themselves on their handiwork. A doily under every teapot. A linen hankie with tatted trim. Time was different for them.. it seems.

  9. I wonder what Auntie would have made of the internet!

  10. M.

    Your ancestors would be so pleased that someone appreciates their work! Wonderful reporting!

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