I love old linens. I guess I inherited this fondness from my mother and my aunt, maybe my grandmother, too. They are all amazing seamstresses.  They can tell you the names of all kinds of fabrics and they can judge the quality with their eyes without even touching it.  I guess my love for these materials is similar to my relationship with music. I am not literate or talented with fabrics, or with music, but I have a great appreciation for them.

One of my favorite aspects of these works of art is the decoration placed on them by talented and patient hands. And some pieces, such as lace, involve the whole fabric, not just an added adornment. In a house on a home tour that I attended there was a dining room that had only one window. To make the most of the scant natural light, the owners placed a delicate window treatment there. It was the most fabulous lace I had ever seen, obviously antique and handmade. I couldn’t take my eyes off of it, and will always remember how beautiful it was.

On the other hand, sometimes the result can be very disappointing. My mother used to always say, “I can’t believe they put this tacky lace on this blouse (or this dress). That has just ruined the whole garment.” And she was always so right. I said the same thing just the other day to my daughter as we were shopping and I spotted this kind of unfortunate result, although I prefaced my remark with, “You know what Meemom would say…”

One of my favorite kinds of fabric work is hemstitching. There is something so beautiful in the simple pattern of the handwork there. There’s no bright color, or pretty picture, or thoughtful saying stitched in words. It’s just the simple repetition of a design that takes time, and skill, and determination.

The hours spent result in a simple pattern of square holes along the edge or hem of a napkin, tablecloth, or even an antique garment. You have to pull threads from the fabric that are parallel to the finished edge, and then hand stitch the cross threads in bundled groups as you secure the hem in place.

Of course, hemstitching can be done on a machine. It saves time, it still looks good, and it is much more cost efficient. A hemstitching machine pierces holes in the fabric and two separate needles sew the hole open. But it just isn’t the same.

One blog describes a hand-hemstitched handkerchief with these words:

It’s the Brooks Brothers shirt of handkerchiefs, the Gary Cooper shy smile of handkerchiefs, the firm handshake of handkerchiefs. Make one for someone who really uses handkerchiefs, every day. Someone who takes one from his top dresser drawer each morning, folds it over firmly, and puts it in his back pocket just as surely as he never forgets his wallet. As surely as he never forgot to give his wife a kiss every morning before work. Or every evening when he got home. For forty-five years.

I am thankful for the artists who have made these treasures through the years, and I am grateful to my family for cultivating this knowledge and appreciation within me.

5 thoughts on “hemstitching

  1. Your words have enhanced my own appreciation of hand stitching.

  2. I love how you notice the lace. My grandma was such a particular seamstress and also did handwork. I wonder about people that still do this work today…it takes quiet and patience, i think… we are in such short supply of these days. Thanks for helping me to remember

  3. You see the finer details that I totally miss. I love your appreciation for hemstitching and for the work of talented and patient hands.

  4. I have some old linens handed down in our family & I treasure them. You are so right; we should appreciate the handwork. I don’t know if I will pass this art down, although I know how to do some of it. I have a pair of linen pillow cases that have been hemstitched & a pair that are tatted-they are both so pretty. Thanks for reminding us of this art.

  5. Bev says:

    Most times I don’t notice those fine details – but love your description and how you are passing it onto your daughter.

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