I still remember the look of horror and disbelief when my young son discovered I had finally washed his aging baby blanket. "You washed it!" he shrieked as he clutched the threadbare tether to his babyhood. I knew I had tested our relationship as he lamented, "The good smell is gone, Mom!"
So much for the fresh smell of springtime in a bottle, eh?
Cloth holds memories. However fading, the smells and feel of fabric in our hands is often the only link to people and places we want to remember.
A treasured piece of fabric like that can have another life, maybe several other lives, and continue to enrich our daily lives.
Clothing that holds the scent of a loved one often is a tender part of our lives. An unwashed shirt, favorite neckties or a well-used apron can be a link to loved ones we remember.
For me, old fabric treasures are a thread to the hands of the makers in my Swedish heritage. As a child, I watched my Mormor (Swedish for "grandma") and her sister crochet bedspreads or embroider tea towels. I treasure Mormor's well-used stack of potholders and towels in my kitchen everyday. The love of creating with cloth is one of the connections my sisters and I still have with our mother today.
Handmade fabric treasures from foreign places give us the opportunity to appreciate our common humanity and creativity. Small curtains, prayer flags or wall hangings are easy to make and can be a lovely canvas for special fabric treasures.
I have a turn-of-the-century Chinese court robe. I consider myself the caretaker of this piece and enjoy it every day as it graces the dining room wall in my home (It hangs on a bamboo pole). I find myself thinking about the people who wove the intricate patterns and spent hours creating this magnificent garment. Who held the needle and thread? Who made the bronze buttons? Who were they making it for? Even though I don't speak Chinese, I understand the language of working with cloth as I travel each stitch.
The holidays are a great time "to live with the good stuff."
Bring out and enjoy the silver, fancy napkins and seasonal table cloths. I dress up my living-room pillows with easy fabric-collage covers for the season.
I collect cloth napkins from thrift stores and yard sales — one small way to save on paper, and I love the feel.
You can make a new set of napkins from a damaged tablecloth or from favorite printed dish towels. Simply cut them to the size you want, fold the edges twice and stitch around the edges to hold. You can stencil or embroider them, add beads or include the raw edges in your designs.
Part of my daily ritual is tea. I create tea cozies for my teapots using some of my special treasure fabrics. Each one is unique to the teapot for which it was created.
It's fun to use old clothing to create recycled pieces that will extend the life of memory-holding cloth. Old tablecloths are usually wonderful fabrics to wear and can be sewn into shirts, vests, skirts and bags.
Even with limited sewing skills you can create a scarf or use favorite fabric pieces to decorate something you have.
To get started, ask yourself: What do I use every day that is made out of fabric? What are you wanting to celebrate or enjoy more?
Somewhere in this busy holiday season, I hope you treat yourself to a quiet cup of tea and some hand work.
Remember that shredded baby blanket I mentioned? Maybe I will save the good parts and make a stuffed toy or a puppet for the next generation.
Diane Ericson is an Ashland artist who teaches workshops and retreats. She is the designer and illustrator for a line of sewing patterns and art stencils; she makes jewelry, clothing and accessories and stencils chairs in her studio in the Ashland Art Center. Visit her Web site at www.dianeericson.com.