Marja-Leena Rathje
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silken twine




a crocheted silk lace piano scarf
made by my late mother-in-law many decades ago
bringing forth memories of it gracing her piano

Joy and woe are woven fine,
A clothing for the soul divine.
Under every grief and pine
Runs a joy with silken twine.

          William Blake - Auguries of Innocence

Marja-Leena | 07/05/2013 | 22 comments
themes: Home, Photoworks, Textures


Marja-Leena: That really is a beautiful work of art. It never ceases to amaze me how anyone masters the technique of crochet. I notice also the care with which the piece has been displayed. A work of such delicacy on such a slippery surface requires skill of a different kind. And like words, an article like this carries a call that is answered by one's own memories.

Estate agents (realtors on your continent) talk about residences, never houses these days, as "deceptively spacious" which in itself something of a conundrum. Blake could be said to be "deceptively simple". First dash through and you think you've got it, second dash through and you realise you haven't. Or at least I haven't. Not that I'm complaining. It's called creative ambiguity. What, you've never heard the term? Perhaps I just made it up.

Coincidentally I have been thinking about all the pieces my mother and grandmother made in their youth - I have several pieces of tatting rather like your crocheted piano scarf, all accounting for so many hours of pleasant woman-talk with relatives and friends. The big question I keep asking myself is what will happen to them after me?

Tom, I remember in my childhood how many older ladies crocheted little doilies to decorate their homes. Those seem so easy compared to this large, delicate and slippery thing, more lace-like than crochet. It's not easy laying it on the piano! Don't you think it has an air of the glamorous roaring twenties and Great Gatsby? Yet my in-laws were not like that.

Robbie, you are the master of creative ambiguity! What do estate agents have to do with piano scarves? Poetry on the other hand certainly is often rich in ambiguity though this passage by Blake is not so dense, nor simple, to me. It brings together many of my thoughts and feelings from recent posts, such as 'too many goodbyes'.

Olga, thanks for reminding me of how women often worked together, hands busy as they socialized. I see that now with some of my daughters who knit as they visit. My problem at the moment is that our home is already so full of lovely things, including things from my own mother, and now we are going through mother-in-law's estate, trying to find new homes for special things, first with her family. I think this cloth will go to our eldest daughter who now has her grandmother's piano. I know we are lucky to have offspring yet there is a lot that not everyone wants to keep.

In the meantime, I'm doing some visual recordings of the more interesting things - more to come.

I also remember pieces of tatting -- delicate doilies and runners -- that my grandmother and my mother's aunt did, alas none of which have survived. My mother didn't go in for old-fashioned things and never saved them. My father's mother was of more peasant stock and wove some amazing room-sized rugs from old rags. My brother had one for a long time, but not sure if he still has it - these rugs were not stored away but used to cover well trodden spaces in the house, so eventually got pretty worn down.

Anyway, the piano cloth is lovely! It does seem it should go with the piano. :-)

Leslee, I didn't know 'tatting' was the word for those crocheted doilies. I've never been fond of them though I appreciate the skill. I inherited a large collection from my mother, who didn't make them herself and used only a few. After languishing in a drawer for some years they were regifted by a daughter off on a student exchange in Japan.

Rag rugs! They are a very old Finnish tradition, with many aunts making them, even I made one when we had a loom at home on loan for a while. I remember the hours of cutting leftover sewing fabrics, old but good cotton skirts etc. into long strips rolled into balls of different colours. Our home has quite a few, sadly wearing out now. Two larger and intricately designed ones were woven by a great-aunt, a real master weaver. I wish I could get a new rug for the kitchen but the aunts are getting too old to make any more. Ours have always been the long narrow ones - I've never seen room-sized! The Indian ones we used to buy here at a Swedish store are not of the same quality, with their weak warp fibres and non-fast colours.

Yes, the lace cloth does go with the piano but not with the general more modern decor of our home.

One of the things that Beth has saved in my family is all the handwork that my (Armenian) mother and grandmother did. It's not quite as delicate or as beautiful as what you're showing but considering it was Armenia and Egypt pre-1930 it's not too bad. Yours is so delicate it looks like it barely exists in the physical realm, and its delicate shapes are so mathematical and organic at the same time.

Jonathan, how special for you have those treasures from your Armenian mother and grandmother, lovingly made by hand, as so many women used to do especially in the 'old country'. That is why I treasure all the Finnish textiles we have, and now this German one is another addition to our family heirlooms.

It really is a breathtakingly magnificent piece. That such things were once made without any consideration other than to make something useful is a marvel. I have a heavy silk shawl my paternal grandmother made for my Christening which is still as beautiful as the day it was made and all the more a treasure.

Susan, your Christening shawl sounds gorgeous. Previous generations of women spent more time creating lovely things for their families, and sadly it all changed when women went to work outside the home. We buy cheap stuff produced with underpaid labour offshore. There's something sad in this picture. (I'm sure the feminists will not agree.)

Marja-Leena, what a treasure! And what a gorgeous piece of handwork. I am awed when I think about what concentration and skill it must have taken to follow that pattern without making mistakes. My grandmother and her sisters all did fine needlework and other art, but mostly after they retired from teaching. Like your own ancestors, they had been taught by their mother. I'm glad I learned the crafts too, but I'm afraid it the legacy has died with this generation and the huge demands on women's time. How sad it makes me to realize what we substitute for these family treasures now - and how the often-beautiful work of anonymous, underpaid women from developing countries is likely to be under-appreciated and eventually discarded, partly because it may be cheap, partly because the materials used are usually not the best, and partly because the finished object comes to us without a story that we find meaningful.

Beth, we share the awe and admiration for the work of our maternal ancestors. You have said it so well about the loss of these skills, and how they cannot be replaced by the cheaper imports. I agree it is the story, as well as the person, behind the work that makes it meaningful.

Oh my! Seeing this brought a happy tear to my eye. Wonderous work. It reminds me of the lace pieces my Grandpapa's workers would craft. I managed to save one small doily. This piece of yours is a treasure! Thank you for showing to us!

Rouchswalwe, I'm glad this made you happy, recalling memories from the past.

That is a wonder, it seems impossible that it holds its form, and doesn't just become a mass of tangled threads when lifted. I think perhaps it is tatting, as someone said, rather than crochet.

But when you think about the other demands those women had on their time, OK they didn't necessarily go out to work but everything was more complicated and took longer, housework, cooking, getting anywhere, we can't really say they had more time than we did, maybe just more patience, perhaps fewer distractions.

In fact there are some fabulous things being done by people now, crochet in particular is really something I've discovered, and a lot of it by women who seem to have so many other things going on in their lives, they make me feel quite pathetic! Have a look at

-it's in French but just enjoy the pictures, and if you don't know her already, search google images or Pinterest or whatever for Sophie Digard - she's the designer, but all her stuff is done by hand by a bevy of women in Madagascar, it's all ethically produced and they earn a good living from it, people think they must be fairies their work is so amazing! If I had the money for a beautiful piece of wearable art...

My mother often used to quote those lines from Blake, she slightly muddled and misquoted them, but I liked her version.

Lucy, actually the whole thing looked like a pile of shredded string when my husband handed it to me, there is no form to it. It takes much effort to lay it on the piano for it stretches and shifts. If I played the piano every day (I don't at all anymore), I would not put up with it, nor would have our daughters when they took lessons. Now I know why it was on my mother-in-law's piano only on special occasions for she was a keen and excellent pianist.

I'm still not sure of the difference between tatting and crochet. To me this cloth looks like a kind of lace-making - is that tatting? The yarn, if that's what it is called, seems silky yet firm and string-like. The tassels are soft and tangled.

You are right about how busy women's lives were in the past, and yet they found time for handwork of all kinds. The wealthy of course had servants as well as the money to pay others to make things. With all our modern conveniences, we should be having more time today, but as you say, there are other distractions (like this machine I'm sitting at). I'm very happy to see many of the younger generation taking up these old crafts. I used to sew a lot and keep struggling to get back to it.

Thanks for the link - wow, look at those vibrant colours! Good to learn about ethically produced crafts. Maiwa is one foundation here that sponsors and supports the old arts of textile dyeing and printing in India and Morocco, and sells their lovely work here.

Your mother sounds sweet. I love Blake too, though I'm not one for much quoting.

Whenever I visit you here I find a charming coincidence and it never fails to make me pause and think "Perhaps we're on the same wavelength and our thoughts are somehow entwined" which sounds crazy but it's May 12th and I'm having that kind of day

So, yesterday I stood in front of the Oxfam shop in Abingdon and admired a display of crafts lent to them by local artists for their French country house theme, and one of them was a crocheted shawl so lovely it captivated me

And now here I am gazing in admiration at one even more beautiful

Julia, that is indeed a marvelous coincidence, seeing the crotcheted shawl in a shop and then here!

Also, you wrote on your blog about how this date of May 12th is so significant for you. Well - here it is Mother's Day and our youngest daughter's birthday! We've been out celebrating today and I've just come home to this. Thank you!

Lovely! My maternal side (until my generation, I fear) was full of grand needlewoman, and I have a good many family quilts and a crocheted bedspread and more... It's so nice to have these things that women dreamed over, listening to others or the radio or talking to friends.

Nice Blake choice! You know, the Puritan divine Jonathan Edwards thought that the soul was a skein of many fine threads.

Marly, I agree it's special to have our elders handmade treasures. I never got into the weaving (just once), knitting and crocheting though I used to sew a lot and did some batiking for a while. Not enough time for those things since devoting myself to artmaking. I'm sure it's the same for you and your writing.

Glad you like the quote. How very interesting that this man (unknown on me) felt 'the soul was a skein of many fine threads'! How ever do you remember all these things?

You know, I always have the feeling that my memory is poor, and that I remember too clearly things I don't want to remember and forget what I should like to recall. But I do seem to remember a lot of stray, usable things for a writer--I once used that comparison in a poem.

Edwards was a Puritan divine. You probably have heard of him. He is most famous in the popular mind (if he still exists there) for "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God," a sermon. I just thought of something he wrote you might like, if I can find it...

Here! I read it in grad school and love it because it is so very much an effusion of his time, place, and way of seeing the world. Also, the rhythms of it and syntax are very interesting (to a writer, anyway.) This is a description of his future wife, Sarah Pierrepont, which he wrote inside the cover of one of his schoolbooks, when he no doubt should have been studying (and that's rather sweet):

“They say there is a young lady in New Haven who is beloved of that almighty Being, who made and rules the world, and that there are certain seasons in which this great Being, in some way or other invisible, comes to her and fills her mind with exceeding sweet delight, and that she hardly cares for anything, except to meditate on him — that she expects after a while to be received up where he is, to be raised up out of the world and caught up into heaven; being assured that he loves her too well to let her remain at a distance from him always. There she is to dwell with him, and to be ravished with his love and delight forever. Therefore, if you present all the world before her, with the richest of its treasures, she disregards it and cares not for it, and is unmindful of any pain or affliction. She has a strange sweetness in her mind, and singular purity in her affections; is most just and conscientious in all her actions; and you could not persuade her to do anything wrong or sinful, if you would give her all the world, lest she should offend this great Being. She is of a wonderful sweetness, calmness and universal benevolence of mind; especially after those seasons in which this great God has manifested himself to her mind. She will sometimes go about from place to place, singing sweetly; and seems to be always of joy and pleasure; and no one knows for what. She loves to be alone, and to wander in the fields and on the mountains, and seems to have someone invisible always conversing with her.”

Marly, if I had your memory for the words of others, I'd be in heaven :-)

I looked up this Edwards and I'm sure I've not heard of him, or don't remember. I'm not well read concerning religious writings other than perhaps Blake for his poetry and art. Edwards certainly attributes the divine to his future wife, wow, a different time and world. No one talks or writes like that anymore. Or do they?