The Distaff Side

This is the cloth I made in Jude’s spirit cloth class that began on 15th June, made as a birthday gift for my mother.  The cloth was safely delivered – and warmly received – into its new home today.  It began as a very old lace-edged linen cloth, a generous gift from Dee, which I hand-dyed.  The cloth traces our family ancestry on the female side only: mothers, daughters and sisters, stretching back in a long line to my great-great-great grandmother Emma, born in 1807. 

The cloth had a large hole in it when I received it, and had obviously been used to patch and mend something else.  I ‘mended’ the hole by darning it, weaving cloth strips, and then planted a garden over the top of this patched area.

The border is made from various fragments of precious fabrics and lace, many of which were gifts:

The names of the women are all stitched on pieces of fabric expertly dyed with avocado by HG Handmade.  I liked the fact that all the fabrics were slightly different in shade and texture, but all came from the same dye pot, just like the women.  It was a profoundly moving experience to embroider the names of my ancestors, one by one, and to stitch them to the cloth.  I wondered about their lives; how different and how similar life was for women many years ago compared with now.  I wondered whether they stitched.
The back of the cloth is also hand-pieced:

The cloth measures about 50″ square, and took just over a month to complete – stitching many hours a day, every day.  It occurred to me that it might be good to make a cloth book – a story book – about the making of the cloth, with photographs (printed on silk and cotton) documenting it as a work in progress.

The book measures about 9″ square and has (I think) 22 pages, all cloth, all hand stitched.  It took a little longer to make than the cloth.

I included some relevant pieces of poetry and quotations on some of the pages

 (Above) I made a pull-out page including swatches and samples of the fabrics used in the border.

I haven’t shown all the pages here because many contain personal memories for my mum as well as some private family photographs.
Happy birthday, Mum x
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20 Responses to The Distaff Side

  1. jude says:

    a very lovely gift, the book was such a nice touch.

  2. deanna7trees says:

    what a wonderful memory that book will be…

  3. Mnemosyne says:

    omg……..this is so beautiful and touching and really really meaningful!!

  4. Both the cloth and book are really great …but I would really like to flick thru the pages of the book!!

  5. What a lovely gift Karen, a treasure for your Mother to hold, feel and remember all those other special women.

  6. kaite says:

    how wonderful for both your Mother and yourself, shared memories and treasures, and infused with all the Mothers gone before…k.

  7. it's extraordinary.beautiful and such a work of art.i don't think i've ever known ofsuch a very fine gift, daughter tomother…and i love that we wereable to watch and listen to theprocess.thank you, karen, for sharingit all with us…

  8. liniecat says:

    What a simply lovely idea and gift. Love the sentiments and am sure your family women folk would be thrilled to see what you have done in their honour and for your Mum.

  9. It's absolutely stunning! I couldn't imagine what was in the box even though I knew of this cloth. The book is amazing too. What an incredible family treasure. Funny too, I know what a distaff is, but just today my word of the day email came with distaff as the word. It explained how the word is used to name the woman's side of a family. I had never heard it used that way until today and now I've heard it twice.

  10. Making this little quilt would have to be one of the nicest things you could do for and give to your mother! What a treasure and it will bring many cherished hours of reminiscing about the women in her life. It is truely gorgeous and so is the book. A work of art!!!!x Suzy

  11. Suzanna says:

    Karen, it is so lovely…I enjoyed so much seeing the evolution of its creation…

  12. Sweetpea says:

    K, I've gone a bit speechless after reading this…but not for lack of emotion. For how extraordinary, in a deep & profound way, to be so loved by another human being that a gift such as this is created that not only spans centuries but pieces together an irrevocable lineage. You've stitched a "now" that is forever…

  13. so thoughtful and beautiful. Be ready with the hankies!

  14. mayerling says:

    I was overcome with emotion when Karen presented me with this exquisite quilt. The photos do not do justice to the intricate stitching and glorious colours contained in this beautiful work of art. The names all mean so much to me as I have been researching our family tree for some time and feel that I know all these women so well. What a wonderful birthday present and what a lovely, talented and thoughtful daughter I have. Thank you again so much Karen, I shall treasure this always, xxx

  15. Jane says:

    What a wonderful gift!I can see from the above comment how delighted your mother is with it.A treasured family heirloom from now on no doubt.Beautiful work.

  16. karen says:

    Karen this is beautiful, not only is it a wonderful piece of art it's also a precious piece of history. I have goosebumps just looking at it. I wish I could be here in 100 years to see the faces of those who will eventually hold this.

  17. Marti says:

    One of the most beautiful and heart-filled pieces of cloth art that I have ever seen. A wonderful tribute to your Mother and for the generations of women who make up your family, as well as future generations. It is a deep privilege to see this.

  18. What a wonderful, thoughtful and beautiful gift. I loved reading about it and was open mouthed in awe at the pictures. Lovely!

  19. Marie says:

    So much went into this gift. Very thoughtful and lovely.It holds many memories… I am sure your mum will treasure it!<3

  20. ger says:

    No surprise it was received warmly – I imagined it would when you sent me the photo a while back – + the book is just a jewel, I especially find the idea of keeping small samples of the fabrics in a special, treasuring way very appealing…

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