I was 15 when my grandmother died and after the funeral I was given her embroidery silks. My lasting memory of her was as a silvered haired, soft cheeked, old lady in her sitting room sat in front of the fire embroidering. My generation and social background did not encourage intimacy with adults and conversations in the way that they do now and I remember little of her apart from the embroidery and the spurning of washing up liquid in favour of washing soda for doing the dishes.
I doubt that she left a will and I expect my Aunt Ivy decided I should have the silks as I showed an interest in sewing. I can remember being ‘strangely’ pleased with this gift. Strangely as I had never really undertaken any embroidery projects as through necessity I made my own clothes and that was where my interest lay.
I started my first proper job at 16 working in a village in Surrey called St John’s Lye where there was an old fashioned haberdashers. Think Mrs Gee’s shop in Call the Midwife. And yes, I remember buying sanitary towels from this shop and they was placed in a brown paper bag. Having periods in those days still carried some sort of a stigma. Quite bizarre. Anyway, I digress. It was in this shop I bought the green linen tablecloth to embroider with my grandmother’s silks. The fabric was cotton linen and it was transfer printed with the design.
I worked on this tablecloth until I fell for my first child when all creative production went into knitting baby clothes only picking it back up about ten years later. After I had finished it it saw good service for family meals and therefore became stained and not treated with much love. When I divorced I took very little from the house and so it stayed with my ex-husband and moved to the Isle of Man with him. It was when I was staying with him and helping to clear up one day that I spotted it in a drawer and, I’m ashamed to say, just took it. So it came back to me eventually ending up in a drawer in my house.
Fast forward a few years and I’d moved with my new husband to Ashford. We had a circle of friends that would meet at our local and come back to our house for a takeaway curry. This is when the tablecloth gets its second lease of life. It came to be know as the ‘curry cloth’ and became even more stained and unloved.
Now fifty years on from when I first bought the tablecloth I came across it scrunched up at the bottom of the linen box. Unloved and not even looked at for years I took it out and examined it. It was so screwed up that I laundered it to have a proper look.
I have recently started embroidering again after many years and although my hands are now arthritic I still manage to hold a needle. What I saw when I looked at the stitching on the cloth amazed me. My grandmother must have taught me to embroider at some point in my childhood because the variety of stitches is amazing and the execution beautiful. I can’t believe it is my work. I suppose it is the work of young hands and good eyesight combining to produce a thing of beauty.
This story will be printed off and stored with the tablecloth in tissue paper and placed in the family archive. It will serve as a memory of when my hands were young.