Monday, June 30, 2008

Embroidering the Past....

Recently I've read several blogs where they talked about how creative and artistic their mothers were, and how that influenced their own creativity. I really envy those people!

I grew up as an only child, very protected and insulated from the world, and my mom was not much of a creative person. About the only thing she did was make most of my clothes (but only with a pattern to go by) and she also did a lot of embroidery. We always had embroidered pillow cases and those day-of-the-week dish towels. She didn't knit or crochet, she didn't paint or sculpt or do crafts. I'm not sure if she just didn't enjoy that kind of thing or if she thought it was a waste of time.

One of my mom's brothers used to draw, and one of my mom's uncles did the same. I have one cartoon drawing that the uncle did for me when I was just a kid....

It's a pencil drawing and it's been folded and stained so it's not in great shape. It shows my dad as a "hobo" heading for Kansas, where he was born. It's a funny, quirky little drawing but I like it for lots of reasons. And, no, my dad was never a hobo although I think the uncle might have been!

We also had some musical talent in the of my mom's cousins used to sing on the radio. I think it was in the Chicago area.

But as far as I know, my mom didn't have any artistic talents or desires. She did teach me to embroider though. I can remember sitting on the floor at her feet in the evenings, listening to the radio (yes, I was a child before TV was popular!) and doing embroidery. Here again, she never did anything was all with a pattern that she followed. That must have also reinforced my thinking about staying inside the lines and following the rules!

Here are some of my mom's embroidered pieces that I still have. Some of them are quite faded as we used these pieces all the time....

Here is a close up of my favorite dresser scarves....these are still quite bright and haven't faded so much as the others....

My mom liked pink!

I think that small tablecloth above was one of the last things my mom embroidered. When she got older I don't remember her doing much stitching.

And since you all know that I tend to keep all kinds of things forever, here are some things I embroidered as a kid....

You'll notice that none of my edges are finished off with crochet. All my mom's pieces had the crochet done by one of her sisters, and I guess I never got around to doing that. The piece in the bottom right corner of the photo was one I did for a home ec class.

All this leads me to something I found in my closet the other day when I was cleaning. Back in the early 90's I found a pretty silk vest in a thrift store. I bought it and did lots of embroidery on it. The vest is actually a very pretty soft sage green but it doesn't show too good in these photos....

It also looks much more wrinkly in the photos than it does in person!

Right side....

Left side....for some reason the dark green is showing very dark in this photo but it isn't that predominate in person.

When I was still working I wore this vest quite a lot and always got lots of comments on it. I still love embroidery thread and have tons of it! I seldom do embroidery using a pattern anymore. I just like scattering some flowers here and there or doing some other simple stitches as an accent. Plus the fact that no one uses dresser scarves they?!



  1. What your Mom gave you was a great foundation, a schooling in matering techniques. Because of your practice as a youngster, you can embroider improvisationally now with abandon! I'm envious that you have your own work from so many years ago... and also that you have (and use!) your Mom's beautiful embroidered linens. The vest you embroidered is gorgeous!

  2. Aloha Janet,
    those are lovely pieces by your mum.. It's funny how simple things are gorgeous..
    People just don't sit about embroidering any more.. I wonder if it's because we are such a visual society now, instead of before TV when folks listened to radio and painted or sewed or knitted..

    you made my thoughts drift, Thanks!!
    PEace, Kai

  3. This is a wonderful post, Janet. It's clear that your mum had a good deal of creativity that came out of her fingers in such wonderful patterns and neat stitches. And you certainly have it genetically, as you can tell from that great sketch. Those are all genuine treasures and you are so fortunate to have them. I never throw anything out, either, but sometimes things get tossed long before we have a chance to stake our claim.

    I find it fascinating to look at where we came from in terms of our creativity. No, she may not be an "artist" with paint or other media, but she was an artist. And so are you -- that vest is to die for!

  4. This is a wonderful post, I love the pictures. It made me think of my own Mother and that is always a good thing. My mother embroider also and hand stitched her own quilts. My Mother made dresses for me and skirts. Love the vest, I bet it looks really pretty on you.
    family talents, my Grandmother was the artist in our family, she was also a crafter.

  5. Hi Janet. Glad you're feeling better and I'm glad to be back too. I would kill to own some of the fabulous work my Oma did. In Germany a woman's education was incomplete without perfecting needlework. Here's a blog you might enjoy with wonderful patterns.
    I have lately drawn my own patterns using things like cupcakes for inspiration. They don't potograph well but I'll try again soon. Have fun and happy your well again.

  6. that's photograph....duh

  7. I love all this embroidery! And yes, I do still use dresser scarves - I love them -- they are mostly some my grandma and aunts made, and some that were K's mom's.
    I used to embroider some when I was younger - remember the "embroidered denim" years? But I haven't for a long time - it seems to make me nervous now. Looking at yours, makes me wish I could settle down to it again.
    My mom always claimed she was the only non-artist in the family - though when I was little and would beg her, she would sketch some ladies faces for me, but only if I pleaded. Wish I still had some of those...I do have some cards of her brother's - my uncle who was a commercial artist, tucked away somewhere.
    I love your uncle's caricature too, I think it's very creative - and that vest of yours is fabulous!

  8. I love this post, Janet! I don't know where I get my artistic ability. My mom is good at flower arranging and wrapping presents. She wasn't much of a sewer, but my grandmother and aunt could sew anything. They made most of my clothes growing up. Mom had doilies(sp?)like these, but they have long since been put away. My Dad's mom used to embroider those, but because she had them EVERYWHERE, my mom probably hated them! LOL This brought back memories for me. Thanks.

  9. Hi Janet, I would have to say that I think your mom was an artist. Maybe not with paint but she obviousely knew a bit about color, line, texture and her needlework is beautiful. She did create. By the way, I too sat in front of a radio instead of tv. You are so lucky to still have your Mother's art work.

  10. My grandma is the family member who has taught me the love of arts and crafts. For about 5 years we would paint together every Friday afternoon. Gramma is still around but doesn't want to paint anymore. I'll always treasure those moments we shared.

    Your vest is gorgeous. How lovely that you still have some of your mom's work. She definetly had a lot of talent.

  11. Isn't it funny how creativity manifests itself? We definitely have a dominant creativity gene in my family, and, although when I was young, I didn't realize my mother was a creative guru, she was. I just thought she was pretty handy with wallpaper and paint. And silly. The woman was an absolute nut. Since I've been adult, I realized that she is the most lovely writer and has a mind that is poetry itself. I was a dancer and an artist. Her mother was a gardener and taught me to embroider. She was valedictorian of her class in high school! My sister is a very talented photographer and writer, and I was a dancer and an artist. My two sons, get this: are musicians! Where did THAT come from? Your mother certainly was an artist. She embroidered for the sheer beauty of it. That's an artist, and that's where you got your talent, I'll bet. As Albert Einstein said, "Creativity is better than knowledge," and I think he was right.

  12. Great post Janet!
    I used to embroider and cross stitch a lot, but now I have lost all desire to do so. My grandmother used to as well and I still have lots of her embroidered hankies and dresser scarves. I think my creative side comes from my grandmoms. My mom was creative in some ways like she was a Cub Scout leader and when she'd plan parties, but she wasn't super artsy.
    You know I love my computer but sometimes I think I'd get a lot more done and be a lot more creative without it...then again, I wouldn't be as inspired by people like you!

  13. Really enjoyed reading this and seeing some of Helens work, I can remember seeing her embroidering. I found it interesting to see how many commented on using these old treasures.....I'm one that still does. I think it is great that you still have some of her work.

  14. Now that's a side of you I didn't know--Your work is beautiful and you know - you had to be an artist with the background that you have.

  15. Love hearing about your mom! you have some lovely pieces form her there!
    My mom sews and made most of my clothes until she had taught me sew them myself! We always used patterns.
    It has taken me a lot of time and effort to become adventurously creative. I still feel a lack of imagination sometimes...color is what usually sets me free!
    Your vest is lovely and all your work quite imaginatve!

  16. Your mom's embroidery is beautiful. My mom is an artist - painter. She is very talented, however, she's always seems in a hurry. I think she could be outstanding if she'd just slow down.

  17. Janet, that vest is so lovely! Do you remember the ribbon embroidery craze of a few years ago. I swear I embroidered more ribbon stuff that I can believe and have none of it. I'm so glad you kept your first pieces. I even envy you that. My mom was very musical and played in her high school orchestra! I never learned to play anything. I think you had a lot of artistic influence, maybe just not the overt kind.

  18. You and your mum both did lovely embroidery. I'm like your mum, everything is done using a pattern or a chart, I'm not creative in that way at all. My mum could sew, smock and knit but I don't think she did any embroidery though I know she was taught at school to do cutwork and drawn thread work because she told me so.

  19. oooh! how wonderful - thank you so much for sharing!

  20. Janet how wonderful that you still have the things your Mom embroidered. I think sewing and handiwork was more accepted for women in the past. Who knows your Mom may have been an artist but was encouraged to take up other forms of creativity.

  21. I LOVE embroidery thread too! All those colors to choose from!!! Back in the day I used to get these really cool velveteen skirts and embroider on them and wear them to work! LOL I still have a couple! I don't know how I wore them,they LOOK sooOOOo little now! Yours and your mom's embroidery work is gorgeous!

  22. Hi, I found you on Ninnie's site, and I'm enchanted with your beautiful embroidery. I used to do that kind of embroidery and would like to again, but now I'm intimidated! I took up counted cross stitch, which I've been doing for almost 30 years. I also crochet, though, and I would offer to edge your pieces, though I'd be afraid of ruining them!

  23. Janet,

    Such beautiful embroidery. I used to embroider a lot and had some beautiful pieces. Mom and Grandma embroidered as well. They also made beautiful quilts and Mom still does. I can knit and crochet, but don't find much time to do it anymore.

    I enjoyed my visit here.

  24. Its funny to think how our families influence our creativity, and how at the same time, some of us are artists-out-of-nowhere.
    Very glad to meet you here at your lovely blog!~
    Its beautiful

  25. You're fortunate to have all those pieces. My mom wasn't very creative either growing up. She would crochet (what is the past tense?) but that is about it. I often wonder where my creative genes came from. That vest is to die for! I can see why everyone commented. So pretty.

  26. Janet, I think your mother was very special, it is the simple every day things we learn from "mum" that see's us through our lives and I adore that you still have so much of your mothers "art" on cloth......they are just lovely dear friend.

    I adore also visiting you here today I feel it has made my day whole again.....see you again soon.


  27. Janet those pieces are works of art!! You kept them and look how pretty they are! Just because she used a pattern doesn't mean there wasn't a suppressed artist in there! She obviously needed visual stimulation
    otherwise she wouldn't have bothered to embroider those pieces. Over the ages there were different fiscal and moral restraints where woman were unable to explore their creative it covertly manifested in daily life. I still see that today with a few friends, who don't think they are artists but they are. It comes out in decorated cakes, sewing, making jewelry, decorating their homes, and the way they put their clothes together. I think there are many way of creating art that aren't conventional!

    My mom sewed the majority from a pattern, some not from a pattern, but how she embellished her pieces proved artistic. Even the way she picked her material was artistic. She repainted things to look nice, and always doodled while on the phone, she was a hairdresser who changed peoples hair so they looked better, she crocheted three dresses for me, made many afghans, sewed many costumes for plays and was a spectacular cook creating interesting dishes. Yes she was an artist through and through,culinary and otherwise, yet she never painted or drew a picture and never owned a painted piece. She may have even balked at my art today, (she never saw any of it)...but she was an artist none the less....and my dad was a self taught musician who sang and played the mouth organ by ear and was the man every woman wanted to dance with! Very creative people!
    Sorry to blather on, it's just that I had such a misconception about my own inner artist for so long. At 47 I started to explore the artist within and realized that my deep love of color often criticized by others, the unique diaper bag I crafted from scratch without a pattern, my crocheting, painting odd colors in the seventies, the way I dressed and decorated my home, cakes, garden were all the suppressed artist needing an outlet. I assumed that all art needed a conventional structure and
    I couldn't draw that precise, yet I bought drawing books I never used, loved coloring, played the piano and sang. Now at 52 I know I am an artist and wish I hadn't taken this long to figure it out!! Incredible post Janet. I bet you never expected this much response. Yes Artists are very passionate people too! Have you ever considered making that beautiful vest into a throw cushion or cover for a cushion. I think it would be delightful and you could enjoy the artistic aspect of it daily!

    Hugs Sherrie

  28. Such lovely pieces, Janet. Your mom had an amazing gift. The colors. The fine detail. You are so blessed to have so many of her pieces.

  29. What a beautiful heritage. I am sure it is my Mum's patience teaching me embroidery and other sewing skills which gave me a love of creating. The drawing is wonderful too!

  30. Beautiful work by your mother. Your mother taught you the beauty of needlework and you did a wonderful job creating your own, and You still have all that.
    The vest is gorgeous!

  31. I Love to see others embroidery. I use to embroider alot but not much now. That vest is beautiful!!! I still treasure the felt heart and the ATC that you made me.

  32. Janet.... my mom crocheted like crazy and I REFUSED to learn. Now that she's been gone for 5 years I'm kicking myself because I didn't learn. I always had her to make me whatever I needed crochet-wise. She painted,too. But I have to tell you that I never felt encouraged to do that... she never bought me paint or gave me paper to draw on. Maybe it was because I wouldn't crochet? I don't know... I feel like this is a therapy session here. ha! That is wonderful that you have your creations from your childhood! I think this creative thing is daughter doesn't do anything artsy, but I am hoping one day she will. (She's 29) I embroidered something about a week ago and it's on my blog!

  33. What a delightful post, Janet. I think the question of inheriting talent is fascinating, how sometimes it goes from one generation to the next, sometimes goes sideways (as with uncles and aunts) and sometimes skips a generation. And then you get the odd genius who seems to pop up out of nowhere and surprises the whole family. One thing is for sure, you have an originality and personal expression to your work that is unique and special, and I really admire how hard you work at growing your creativity, even when you lament the times when you are not driving yourself as hard as other times.

  34. what beautiful work!
    my mum is not creative at all although i remember her knitting me a little toy when i was small~however my dad is an artist and thhis is where i get my small ability from :)


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