For those of us who can be occasionally found scouring swap meets, vintage stores and estate sales for hidden treasures, we’ve all had that uncanny experience of finding that one piece that hurls our imagination into the life of the objects past owner. A wedding ring, a postcard, a signed book, they all evoke the ghosts of those whose lives were touched by these precious objects in a bygone era.
I had that very experience a few weeks ago when I found a beautifully elaborate set of hand embroidered table linens at the local swap meet. The table cloth was more that 10 feet long and covered in a delicate gold cross-stitching. The set of 12 matching napkins was pristine. I couldn’t believe that such a precious object had escaped the dedicated possession of the maker’s family. I saw a woman quietly toiling away with her needlework in front of the evening news or on sunny Sundays to fill up the passing hours. I imagined some overwhelmed and oblivious grandson with no clue as to the years of skilled workmanship and dedication that went into making these heirloom table linens, simply casting them aside along with household trinkets and clothing in an estate sale.
There was some staining and damage on the tablecloth and it seemed the napkins were halfway through being revamped to hide a serged edge hem. I didn’t know what I was going to do with the set, but I knew it had to be saved from the ravages of the swap meet scene! I quickly picked out a few other linens in the vendor’s booth, stacked them up and offered a modest sum for the bundle (the more items, the better the bargain!) hoping the bearded and bespeckeld swapper didn’t think the pieces were as priceless as I did. He thumbed through the stack and accepted my offer.
I contemplated restoring the tablecloth and reselling it on ebay, in my Etsy shop or consignment store, but hesitated after asking myself, “Who uses 10-foot-long, formal dining room table linens anymore?” Eventually I decided that the most important task at hand was to preserve this exquisite handiwork in a way that made it desirable to those who would appreciate it. So, with a knot in my stomach and a grimace on my face, I began to cut into the giant tablecloth to make aprons, letting the embroidered patterns determine the design of each unique piece. Four aprons later, I still have half a table cloth left! I also added retro pattern bias tape edges to the napkins to reconcile the unfinished hemming.
Now, the story of one woman’s skill, diligence and love can be preserved in the hearts of many out there who appreciate history and superb craftsmanship. Never knowing anything specific about the person who poured so much time and love into such a large project, we can only choose to love and appreciate the human-ness that goes into such work and celebrate it’s very existence in the world.