Today has been so exciting: in between the normal sewing and cutting, I finally took a photo of my great-grandmother’s (or her mother’s – I don’t know which) hand woven, narrow loom pillowcase which I found in my grandmother’s linen closet, while clearing the family house in Scotland after sixty-seven years of occupation.
Traumatic - my aunt was in a nursing home, and after I visited her and realised she was never coming home, I started going through her things, since we had to sell the house.
The treasures in that place! Family fortunes had gone up and down, but domestic items were kept, and valued – blue and white china, books, linens… fine kid gloves, furs, my grandfather’s tools.
Since my mother and siblings were all in Australia, I asked them what they wanted. My mother wanted her father’s blackthorn walking stick, which he cut for himself before he went to Florida, before he was married - my elder brother wanted his tools and books, my younger brother fancied the heavy, carved barometer which hung in the hall. My sister got a blue and white china basin and pitcher, jug and soap dish, (and my grandmother’s Paisley shawl, in a roundabout way…)
I set out for Australia with a suitcase clanking with all this stuff – I had to go naked while there to compensate for the weight. The walking stick wouldn’t fit, and I was in dread of leaving it in an overhead locker on a series of planes. When I arrived in Sydney late at night the customs men were tired, I was tired and the whole thing was fraught.
Well, they didn’t boggle at the hammers, planes, files and gauges, or the books, barometer or china, but the walking stick was a problem – the only thing my mother wanted. Australia has strict quarantine laws about living things, and because the wood on the stick was only peeled, not finished, it was at risk. As they looked up their books one of them said to me, “We can’t allow bark into the country”, at which something swam to the top of my mind from Biology 1 and I stated confidently, “It isn’t bark, it’s the cambium layer!”
Relief all round, and they let me through.
How personal value is! And as I grow this Rough Linen business from my great-grandmother’s homespun, handwoven linen pillowcase become lavender bag, here in California, a bit north of Silicon Valley – I am hearing from people all over the world who value what I value in this elemental, humble fabric which has somehow become a luxury in a world gone upside down.