Have you ever looked at a vintage handmade item from your family and thought, “That is beautifully made.” And then, “What exactly is that?” And then, “What would I do with that??”

I just had that experience! My sister-in-law, Ellen, offered me several pieces of vintage crocheted/tatted items that belonged to her mother. All were lovely handwork examples, but I wasn’t sure what some were.

A set of three pieces (two small, one slightly larger) turned out to be “antimacassars” – lacy-looking covers for the arms and headrest area of upholstered chairs. Hmmmm… a little too “granny looking.”

I like to honor family crafters who made beautiful things and happily spent hours twisting and turning yarns or threads into “a thing” of their designing. I see the intricate details and appreciate the beauty. But what was once regarded as beautiful and practical often becomes just a relic of another age – like the antimacassars. And what do you do with them a century later!

As a lover and creator of handmade “treasures” myself, I’m frequently torn between ways I might manage heirloom textile pieces that come to me from family members. When appropriate, I like to repurpose vintage pieces into something I will use often and still celebrate the original handwork and its maker.

A few years ago, I decided to repurpose a linen dress of Ken’s mother. The fabric had been woven by her sister, Mary Margaret, and featured a beautiful contrasting pattern in the skirt. Unfortunately, there were permanent stains on the bodice and the dress was too tiny for any of us to wear.

I thought my sisters-in-law and I would each enjoy a memento from the dress and the lovely women who made and wore it. I made a simple eyeglass case pattern, found an animal print faux suede for lining, and stitched up four cases. It’s been a joy to carry mine, and the sisters have all enjoyed theirs!

I used a different remnant of Mary Margaret’s weaving to back the needlepoint pillow, shown here in my blog post, Everything Old is New Again. I’m not lyin’ when I say the pillow back is just as pretty as the front! I’m inspired to learn weaving…

Sample pouch seen on Etsy

OK, back to those funky antimacassars. I’d been looking on Etsy for pouches to store my assortment of circular knitting needles. I’d seen some pouches with a crocheted flap that were pretty neat, but I wasn’t a fan of the open pouch & flap combo. (Potential needle spillage for sure!) I found a free pattern online for a zippered pouch, and I thought I could add a crochet panel, made from the larger antimacassar headrest cover, on the front below the zipper. The crochet piece I had was really nice – small scale and very tightly constructed – and looked like a perfect embellishment.

Completed zipper pouch using vintage antimacassar embellishment

So this week I made a zippered pouch using leftover scraps from my living room draperies for the outer fabric, over which I added the crocheted piece. I also wanted my pouch to be able to stand upright, so I added boxed corners. The lining material was a tan & white stripe purchased at Madison’s L&L Yard Goods. That and a zipper will get you an awesome circular knitting needle case! I love it!

So much so, in fact, that I was inspired to make a second pouch using another scrap of upholstery fabric and a second piece of lining material (tan & white polka dot) also from L&L Yard Goods. Now I have a new home for my short interchangeable knitting needles as well! Who knew an old headrest cover could be so inspirational!

Antimacassar embellished zipper pouch (front), upholstery remnant zipper pouch (rear)

There is a joy in seeing and using your handwork, and when those items include elements of your family’s handwork heritage, even better. Perhaps you have some vintage handwork tucked away that could come to life with some TLC? I encourage you to share the stories of your pieces and their makers with your family. If they don’t hear the story, future generations may not see how or why “these old things” have any meaning… or see value in creating their own handwork to be shared forward.

Few can keep, display, or repurpose every family textile that comes their way. Rarely will any be “museum quality”, having value to the larger community or society. But if you enjoy handwork, finding small ways to use and enjoy the “common threads” of your family can be very rewarding!

Detail of small tablecloth embroidered by my grandmother, Isabella Beason Esmon

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One thing that makes my journey unique is that all of my interests are driven by a joyful and genuine curiosity. I delight in finding less expensive ways to make something or creative ways to enjoy something longer. Finding and creating joy - and sharing it - is core to who I am.