My great grandmother, Hannah Maria Amelia Shoobridge ni Pearce was known as a great seamstress and embroiderer. Almost all women made clothes and stitched patterns upon them, these were basic skills, but Hannah was known for the quality of her work (Nanna inherited her abilities and did her best to pass them on to her granddaughters).
Most of Hannah's work was lost when she had her stroke (long story and one I don't want to go into here, let's just say Uncle George didn't think). Fortunately, Nanna had a few pieces, and one of them made it to me.
The fabric is very fine, about 60 threads to the inch. I don't know if it is cotton or linen. The threads have remained vibrant, with no sign of bleeding or fading. Mum says Hannah did all sorts of embroidery, not just cross-stitch, but I am thrilled to have this. I don't know if the pattern was printed on the fabric (there is no sign of this, but it was made a long time ago), if there was a chart or a kit, or if Hannah made this up herself. What I do know, as a keen embroiderer, is that it is brilliantly executed.
And what is really inspiring is the reverse of the piece. Hannah took great care to make the back neat and to have all her stitching running toward the centre. There is a tiny double hem, about 4mm wide, with stitches that can barely be seen on the wrong side (you need a magnifying glass) and that are invisible on the right side.
I reproduced the pattern of this beautiful little cloth (it measures 32 x 27.5 cm) on a sewing kit I made for my craft book years ago (The Big Book of Crafts 2005, published by Derwent Howard). I opted for a cloth about half as fine, to make thread counting easier for those who are not as skilled as Hannah.
This cloth is used in our house. It is on a shelf, with an ornamental Japanese bowl on it. Every time I look at it I think of my grandmother and of her mother. If it was put away in the linen chest it would be hidden from view - out of sight, out of mind. What's the point of that?