Tuesday, May 21, 2013

In Consideration of Strange Heirlooms

A few weeks ago, my mother-in-law sent my daughter an heirloom from her family—the small, crocheted piece pictured below that, much to my surprise, she identified as a "pot holder." It got me thinking about heirlooms generally—mine, ours, yours—and what many of us have hidden away, or even stashed within reach, that we overlook on a regular basis. Today on the AK blog, I'm kicking off a series on familial hand-crafted heirlooms, beginning with this:
It is actually quite a bit finer than it appears in my mediocre photo of it. It was stitched of cotton thread, very neatly and carefully, and is in almost perfect condition. Which initially suggested (as did the choice of white thread itself) that, even if it was intended to be a pot holder, it was very rarely used as one.

After my daughter tried it on a variety of dolls (it fit precisely none), I embarked on a little search to see what I could find out about it. Almost right away, I discovered it again on eBay, in its exact opposite color scheme of green and white:

And THAT suggested that a pattern booklet, featuring these "bloomers,"was published around 1940 or so. It  must have been favored by women and girls who had some kind of intense hankering to crochet pot holders in the shape of doll clothes. And I imagine that the pattern book looked something like this:

Or this:

This second pamphlet has a subtitle that reads: "For Kitchen Pick-Me-Ups." So, not just my mother-in-law's ancestor, it seems, but a whole bunch of other people's ancestors, crocheted little figural pot holders—not just in the shape of doll clothes, but also bird cages, animals & insects, fruits, wagon wheels, snowmen—to decorate their kitchens. Which also explains why our "bloomers" are a bit on the thin and not-quite-heat-resistant side. And I'm starting to wonder, now, if somewhere out there exists an enormous stash of these things-I-had-never-before-heard-of, waiting to be unboxed and to brighten a new era of rooms. But I've only found a few online here and there, and none are quite so lovely as the white-and-green bloomers hailing from the McInnis family; or the reverse-color green-and-white ones abandoned to eBay.

There is one more thing I know about these bloomers. Their pattern is spider lace and blocks—spider lace showing up, in my very scant research, in US and UK patterns books from the 1910s onward. It consists of a series of chain-stitch rows that are then stitched to each other, and you can find a tutorial on how to do it here.

Meanwhile, if you know anything about the history of figural pot holders, write in and let me know! Have an heirloom you'd like to share? Write in with that, too. Next up, I'll be plundering the mysterious embroidered pocket full of hand-edged handkerchiefs, from my own side of the family.