Some additional thoughts about our mother's linens

My last post where I wrote about using my mother's napkins stirred up quite a bit of discussion both in my e mailbox and on Facebook. I wanted to focus a little bit on old table linens and why they matter.
Today, table linens are mostly fairly easy to acquire. You can buy a plastic table cloth at a party store or at a dollar store. You can buy a tablecloth inexpensively at Ikea or at Walmart. It is difficult for us to remember that not all that long ago, just a few generations ago, table linens were household wealth that was owned by women.  Those linens were expensive to produce. Women began producing and acquiring them as young girls and then built up their collections until they were married. 

In accounts of household wealth the linens were accounted for along with gold, jewels livestock and real estate.

After my father died, my mother gave me a stack of tablecloths and napkins with great ceremony.

Over the years I have inherited cloths not just from my mother but from the mothers and grandmothers of friends. As I look over some of these older textiles I see by how carefully they were mended, that they were valued. 

I also know from y reading of old household magazines that mending and embroidery were done not just as a pastime but to extend the life of old textiles. Being a good needlewoman had value, as much as being a skilled stock market investor is valued today. Those needle skills could keep your family from starving when there was a reversal of fortunes. 

Knowing how to mend could extend the life of family textiles. At a time when basic clothing was proportionally much more expensive, it could mean the difference between having your kids educated or not, paying the rent, or not, having money to heat your home or not.

Those tablecloths that our grandmother left us represent their own wealth given to their daughters. 

I know that today it is a little bit like being given wampum by your grandmother. It used to be worth a whole lot, and now it is a symbol of a kind of wealth we mostly don't care about.

It is easy to think of these textiles that our mothers and grandmothers have handed down as a burden from a time when women where somehow less than. As a feminist, I see these textiles as a legacy of women's work and women's wealth.


Popular Posts