Monday, November 14, 2011

Nanie's precious handiwork

Nanie's coverlet
My Nanie Stella was busy raising three small children, my aunt, my dad and my uncle, and was expecting her fourth child in 1934. She was 34 years old and living in an Newfoundland outport that was a half day's cart ride to St. John's.
Her life wasn't an easy one. There were no modern conveniences like electricity and the village's only telephone was in the post office.
Nanie and the other woman of the village spent their days making sure the children were cared for, the house was clean, the gardens were tended, and the men fishing in little boats out on the Atlantic had three nourishing meals a day. I never thought she had a lot of time for 'fancy work.'
Not long ago, my Aunt Rita called to ask if I would like to have a coverlet my Nanie had embroidered. The tears welled up. We have so little of Nanie. She and her newborn daughter died in July 1934 from complications following childbirth.
Delicate, precious stitches
The coverlet was one of last things Nanie made. It is a summer-weight covering for a double bed, and it is embroidered on sturdy cotton calico.
When I first saw it, I was struck by how delicate and pretty it is -- such a contrast to Nanie's rustic life. The stitches are so delicate, so neat. You can't tell the right side from the wrong side.
Nanie traced the design, likely from a magazine pattern. These magazines were published in Boston or England, sent to Newfoundland by mail ship. Over the course of year, the patterns were traded around the village. Women made items their own by the choice of fabric and floss.
In this coverlet, there are parts of the embroidery pattern not covered by the floss. It is magical to me that these ink marks were made by Nanie 77 years ago. I am also surprised that the floss colours have not faded. I think I am going to turn the coverlet into a duvet cover by adding backing fabric and some ties to close it. It will be used and loved, because Nanie meant for that to happen. I just know it.
Aunt Rita's flour sack fantasy
Aunt Rita also had another surprise for me, a coverlet she made from flour sacks in 1941. Once again, the colours are vivid and the calico as sturdy as it was when it held the flour that made my ancestors' daily bread. This coverlet is so lively that it begs to go back into use.
Later this winter, once the Christmas crafting is over, I am off to Ikea for  a lightweight duvet. I will use a cotton sheet for the backing of Nanie's coverlet and before long, her handiwork will be on display once again.


  1. Wow Nancy, that's quite a story! How lovely that you can now add your own part to something started by your grandmother all those years ago. The embroidery is so perfect looking and just beautiful. Certainly something to cherish!

  2. What a lovely treasure you've been given. I like that you are going to use both coverlets. I think that is the best way that we honour the handwork of those who have passed.

  3. ooooh that is so pretty!!!! xo
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