Wednesday, 1 September 2021

Old textiles and memories

Last month I redecorated my weaving room. I repainted all the walls.  This necessitated taking everything off the shelving.  It gave me a good opportunity to reorganise all my 'stuff'. Now my weaving room looks brighter and all the shelving units have neatly labelled transparent boxes.  For the first time I know where everything is!

Of course I found treasures that I had forgotten.  One set of items was the old crocheted and embroidered textiles from my grandmother. She died when I was six months old so I only know of her through my father talking about his mother. She had been injured in a factory accident during the First World War as a result of which she had hearing difficulties and was lame. My grandfather was gassed in the trenches and suffered for the rest of his life with complications from this experience. 

She was widowed in 1936. She crocheted, knitted and embroidered constantly.  My father remembered as a very small boy being taken into town on a Saturday.  She liked to visit Bold Street which in the 1920's was a fashionable and expensive shopping area of Liverpool. The posh dress shops and fur shops were here. Of course she could not afford any of the goods but she liked to see what was fashionable.  She would stand in front of a dress shop and examine the lace or crocheted collars and cuffs on dresses. To  my father's great embarrassment, she would take her crochet hook out of her handbag and proceed to copy a motif or design she liked. 

Here is my dad.

My father developed an interest in craft, probably through necessity. He could embroider, sew and mend. You know the phrase a  jack of all trades and master of none – well, Dad was a jack of all trades and a master of many. He knew the shoe and leather industry – so when my brother and I were young he would mend our shoes. When I needed a satchel for school, he got the leather and hand stitched one for me. He was excellent at wood work and made a lot of furniture for the house. He could do beautiful woodwork and marquetry. He made me a wonderful dolls house and when I was given some Pelham puppets for Christmas and birthday presents, he made me a theatre.  This was an amazing piece because it had removable wings so that scenery could be changed.  The curtains were made from an old scrap of red material.  He found a length of curtain rail and made the curtains to open in the centre when a cord was pulled - just like a real theatre. The best thing was that it could be folded flat for storage - very necessary in our small terraced house.  I had four puppets - a cowgirl, a Tyrolean girl and dog and cat.  This stretched my playwriting abilities somewhat! 

In my bedroom there was a small rug which he had designed and made.  It had a picture of his dog - an Airedale terrier on a green background.   After the war, he enrolled in night classes to learn about house painting, electrics and plumbing. Not for a job - he was a shoe salesman.  He could lay concrete paving and he built a brick coal store for the house and used to do all the house repairs. He would mend clocks and always serviced the car. When money is tight ,then make do and mend is important. Nothing was wasted. 

My mum could knit and sew and was an excellent cook. It is not surprising that I developed a love of  making things.

I had kept my grandmothers small sewing box which disintegrated a few years ago. In tidying my  room, I found  my grandmothers crochet hooks and old cottons, some of her embroidery and crochet work and other memorabilia which I thought I would share.

The oldest item probably belonged to her mother or grandmother.  It is a printed cotton square, a memento of the Royal Jubilee Exhibition held in Manchester in 1887.  This exhibition was open for 166 days and 4.5 million paying visitors attended. 

Here is a close up of Queen Victoria

In her sewing box there were many examples of her crochet work.  They are yellow with age and some are simply scraps but I could never throw them away. Some of them look as though she was trying out motifs.  I wonder they were copied from shops in town.

The centre set of pieces has a small item which looks as though she was trying to crochet a picture of a tank. Here is an early photograph of her. She was very patriotic and took my father to London for the Nov 11 Remembrance Day processions. 


I also inherited some of her remaining crochet hooks.  They are very fine indeed.  The items at the top are a rug making tool and a hook for doing up buttons on boots. 

In 1936 my grandfather died in an accident so my father had to leave school and get a job to support his mother. In 1938 she took my father on a day trip to London to attend the Aldershot Tattoo.  I have the official programme and the travel booklet.  The trip was organised by a local newspaper.  The booklet lists all the passengers, what meals they had, the coach trip in London and details about the Tattoo.  The train seat numbers and coach numbers were carefully listed so that everyone knew what the arrangements were. 

My father and his mother and a friend set out from Lime Street Station in the centre of Liverpool.

The official programme is 36 pages with lots of information about the day. Here is the foreword to the tattoo.

 When war was declared my dad joined the Coldstream Guards and saw action in North Africa, Sicily, Italy and Yugoslavia.  At home, my grandmother embroidered this small cloth.  I still have the booklet which contained the iron-on pattern.

I was searching through my box of cloth to find some early pieces that I made. To my surprise I came across a plastic bag full of more crocheted items from my grandmother.  These are bigger pieces and completed table mats, embroidered cloths etc.  One piece is of particular interest.  

It is a triangular piece about 20 inches along the top edge.  Can you see the words For King and Country in the centre?  They are surrounded by flags. 

During the war, self help and craft skills were encouraged.  Many people are now familiar with the poster 'Make do and mend. ' 

She kept  the original Ministry of Information booklet from 1943.

Here is a page from the booklet. 

The details about new life for woollen goods is fascinating. 

Redecorating my room became more than just tidying and sorting.  It became a trip to my family's past and thinking about how a love of crafts can be passed on. Yes, I did learn to crochet - but that is another story.

Susan J Foulkes  September 2021


  1. What a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing all those memories. (I have that Make Do and Mend leaflet - very Dads' Army, but far more useful.

  2. Thank you for inviting us in for this visit with your family. ❤️

  3. Thank you all for your comments. I do not usually post anything so very personal but these old textiles triggered such memories. The past has had a greater influence on my love of textiles and crafts that I realised. I am sure that many other craft practitioners are the same.

  4. Thank you for sharing these AMAZING stories and photos! You have found a treasure chest indeed.

  5. Lovely to hear from you Barbara. I know you have a real love of stories and are such a wonderful storyteller.


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