Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Vintage textiles

Vintage textiles add color, pattern, texture, warmth, and nostalgic charm to contemporary homes. Everything old is popular again as any fan of the Antiques Road show knows. According to the BBC television show “House Call,” heirloom linens as well as a wide variety of antiques associated with tea drinking are becoming very valuable and increasingly hard to find. Tea connoisseurs can widen their enjoyment of the cup that cheers by searching out a variety of vintage table linens and tea cosies for use on their afternoon or high tea tables.

I began collecting hand-made vintage tea cozies and tea table linens at parish bazaars, jumble sales, charity shops, and antique fairs around the UK, when I lived in London. When they began to mushroom out of the cupboards in our compact rented flat, I reluctantly sold some of my things at tea talks and book signings for my first book, “Tea With Friends.”

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.”

No comments: