Thursday, 4 August 2011

Once upon an Embroidery

This story takes place many years ago. Imagine we are at a time in the gentle years before the Great War. In a time where the motor car was a recent invention and a plaything for the very rich, seldom to be seen on a public road. This was an era when people worked hard and expected little. An era when life was lived at an altogether slower pace.

Let me introduce you to Alice.

Alice is a gentle soul. She has never strayed far from the village where she was born. She has spent her adult life living in the same little cottage she moved into with her husband as a newlywed when she was 19. At one time she was surrounded by family, but over the years they have all passed on or drifted away. Her husband died shortly after his retirement three years previously, and her only remaining sister lives half the country away. They correspond regularly by weekly letters, but haven't seen each other in years. It would be possible to travel by train, but it's altogether too expensive for Alice. She scrapes by on her widow's pension.

Now is not the time to feel sorry for Alice, I don't mean to imply pity for her at all. Alice is quite happy with her life. Her cottage may be a little damp and rundown on the inside, but from the outside it looks glorious. In later years it will be featured on a tourist postcard, as an idyllic chocolate box, picture-perfect home... if only Alice knew - it would so make her chuckle to herself. Today the mellow honey stone walls are aglow in the late afternoon sun, and she is confident the thatched roof will last her out without need for replacing. Her only bugbear is traipsing down the garden to the glory hole, as on cold and damp days it makes her rheumatism play up. Alice doesn't grumble, she is altogether quite content with her lot.

For decades, her purpose in life has been the garden. It is her pride and joy, and she has spent countless hours weeding, planning, pruning, planting, and tending the beds. In many ways the garden has been a surrogate child. Years ago Alice and Luke went through a few bad years, when it was realised they were never going to have children. Alice took solace in her garden. Luke took solace in the village pub, where he sat in the corner puffing on his pipe and a pint of stout. He was proud of his girl mind, and never mis-treated her. They simply bumbled through life as most couples do.

Nowadays, with Luke gone and her rheumatism getting worse with each passing year, Alice knows that the days of her garden being the show piece of the village are numbered. She will be able to potter about for several years to come, but the days of hard gardening labour are definitely drawing to a close. Alice just doesn't have the energy. Though wistful, Alice is now savouring every balmy evening this summer brings. She knows this is her garden's swan song, and wants to remember it this way.

Tonight Alice is sitting out on her ancient wooden chair, wearing a straw bonnet, with a crocheted shawl around her shoulders. It's a lovely evening, and the sun is slanting across the lawn, bathing her in dappled light. With her teapot and second-best cup and saucer on the little ironwork table beside her, she is in her element. It seems that half the village have passed by this evening, and they've all stopped and had a few words with her. Alice has been up and down the beds pointing out this years favourite blooms, giving growing advice and snipping off a few cuttings for her neighbours.

Now looking around her beautiful garden, she wishes she had a picture to remember it by. Sadly she doesn't know anyone who paints. This is the days before photography became a keeper of memories for the masses. Alice possesses two treasured photos, one of her and Luke a short while after their wedding day.......made them giggle dressing up into their finery again and traipsing into the next town to the photography studio. Cost them a small fortune, and Luke never ceased grumbling about it... but they both knew it was worth every penny. Her other photo is of her sister Gertrude, one in which she is staring directly at the camera looking like a startled rabbit - it often makes her chuckle.

Suddenly an idea forms in Alice's mind. She learnt how to sew as a girl, and it has always come in handy. She can turn a nifty needle and she knows her work is neat. The repairs to Luke's shirts always turned out a treat..... hm, she wonders......

What if she can capture her garden in threads? There's enough summertime left to provide the light, and her eye-sight is still pretty sharp. The blooms will be looking good for a few weeks yet.

Alice picks up her tea-things and hurries inside with a quiet smile to herself. She washes the dishes, placing the cups on the wooden rack to dry. Hurriedly drying her hands on her apron, she scurries upstairs to root out her work-basket.......

I'd so love that little story to be true. I'd like to think the truth was something along these lines. Whoever the Alice was that created these glorious embroideries, I congratulate her for such marvelous work and attention to detail. From the delicatedly coloured fine-weave linen on which it is embroidered, to the lovely array of threads and the way in which they have been worked.

Alice - when and wherever you existed, it is abundently clear you loved your garden. I love it too, and would love to have shared an afternoon cuppa with you. However long ago you worked on these pictures, their beauty remains. Over the years the frames have become a bit shaky, but please don't worry about that. I'm going to get them replaced, and return your beautiful work to it's former glory. I'm thinking of white shaker-style frames to set the pictures off to full advantage, so that I can look at them above my sewing desk and dream fondly of a yesteryear I never knew.

Once upon an Embroidery - by Jan May. Inspired after purchasing two glorious embroidery pictures from a Flea-Market today. Sentimental mush I know...... but I hope you enjoyed it.

Note - should anyone read this and know the answer... one of the pictures has slight mildew marks where damp has got into the frame. I can live with it, I think it adds to the charm - but if possible.... could I wash them gently? Dare I? Unless prompted otherwise, I shall leave them well alone.


  1. You write very well and I really enjoyed reading your post after a very hectic day! The embroidery will look great reframed in white :)

  2. What a beautiful story, and I hope its true!

    You could gently hand wash it in luke warm water with what I call Lux flakes (pure soap) but personally I'd just leave it and chalk the mildew up to charm and part of the story.

  3. I love the lovely colours in the embroidery and will look good framed

  4. Lovely story - beautiful embroideries.

  5. Very nice...

    I'd leave the stain be. Definitely wouldn't emurse the work in water...the colors may run and ruin.


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