Vintage textiles add color, pattern, texture, warmth, and nostalgic charm to contemporary homes. Everything old is popular again as any fan of the
I began collecting hand-made vintage tea cozies and tea table linens at parish bazaars, jumble sales, charity shops, and antique fairs around the
One afternoon, a tiny silver-haired woman, dressed in a plain gray coat, circled my display table several times before edging past a pair of shoppers for a closer look at a felt tea cosy. She reverently ran her fingers over the embroidered roses then flipped it inside out to examine the fabric lining. Inspection completed, she looked up at me and demanded, “Do you know what you’ve got here?” “I think so,” I stammered. “I doubt it,” she rejoined. “I used to be in service. When maids had a free moment they were set to darning household linen or crocheting lace for pillowslips. I was good with a needle and know proper work when I see it.” She tenderly stroked one knitted cosy and said, “Nobody bothers with this sort of handwork anymore. They’re too busy watching the telly (television.)”
She began to quiz me about the names of embroidery stitches. When it was clear that I couldn’t identify anything more exotic than the daisy stitch she said that she had a book I should see. At the end of the day, the little woman re-appeared and thrust a copy of “The Art of Needlecraft,” circa 1930, in my hands said, “You need this,” and walked away. “Wait,” I exclaimed, “How will I return it?” “It’s for you,” she insisted and refused my offer to buy the book. Although she didn’t tell me her name the inscription on the flyleaf reads “For Rosemary.” I’ve turned the 639 pages of her treasure many times since that day to determine whether a piece of crotched lace was attached to a tablecloth by overcast or ladder stitch.
My first vintage textile purchase was a well worn felt tea cosy crafted to look like a thatched cottage with mullioned windows and embroidered red roses climbing over the blue front door. The back and sides are just as elaborately decorated with larkspurs, fuchsia and other cottage flowers. There’s even a rain barrel to catch the overflow from the roof’s gutter. The original stained lining attests to many years of faithful service.
Sometimes I read “The Art of Needlecraft” just for fun. The philosophy of that bygone era is charming, “It is said that those who can knit or crochet are never lonely or discontented, and perhaps this is true.”