A Hidden Family Treasure!
Here’s a little family history: my great-grandmother Grace had four daughters, and they all embroidered pillowcases, and then crocheted lace edgings for them. (They made lots of other things too, like dresser scarves, table cloths, and doilies. They even had families and careers! But since I never got to visit with them much, but did sleep on their pillowcases my whole life long, in my mind I see them primarily as Titans of Pillowcase Decoration.)
They embroidered way more pillowcases than we could use, but we appreciated all the love and craft that went into them, so we used the same few pairs over and over and carefully saved the others for the future when we would need them. Because heaven forbid we ever sleep on regular, ordinary pillowcases that come with sheet sets!
As time went by, and family members started passing away, their stacks of unused pillowcases got handed down to other family members.
So last time I was home, my mother passed on a box full of pillowcases she had received from her cousin, Mary Alice. The note in one of the tissue paper packages said, “From Aunt Jean.” So I assumed that these pillowcases had followed a typical path through our family, something like this — (you can skip this story if you want, but just know that all of these associations went through my mind in an instant, as soon as I saw that little note) — Great-grandmother Grace embroidered them, and gave them to her daughter Jean. At some point, Jean felt like her sister Alice needed some cheering up, and sent her this lovely unused pair of their mom’s pillowcases. Alice packed them away for future use with a note about who sent them.
Much later, when Alice died, her daughter Mary Alice got all her mom’s stuff, but couldn’t stand to go through the boxes for decades. Then Jean also died, and when Mary Alice finally sorted the box, she thought it would be nice to send Jean’s pillowcases to Jean’s daughter, my mother, also named Grace. Who, still having plenty of embroidered pillowcases of her own, passed them on to me.
I was suitably appreciative, but since I have lots of these pillowcases, I didn’t go into paroxysms of joy, or even open the package. When I did, I got a surprise.
Tucked inside a case was a red ribbon from a county fair, and an entry tag. The embroiderer was not my great-grandmother Grace, it was her sister Gertrude! who had married a Bohemian sheep farmer, moved to Montana, and thereby pretty much fallen out of family awareness.
Gertrude was born in 1884, four years ahead of my great-grandmother. I have her wedding picture, but I don’t know what year it is from. I also don’t know how she met her husband, whether he was a farmer when she met him, or how early on they planned to move to Montana.
I do know they never had any children, and that she did come back to visit family at least once. She brought some Montana souvenirs for gifts and a little agate ring that she brought has been passed down to me.
It just makes me so happy to know that she was another person in our family that loved to make pretty things, and made them her whole life long!
Such wonderful treasures to have. Thanks for sharing this story.
Thank you, it was fun to share it with like-minded people, that appreciate crafts and creativity! 🙂
The embroidery is wonderful, of course. What amazed me is the crochet trim! It’s so delicate. When I looked at the pillow cases I thought at first it was rickrack but I doubt they had rickrack way back then. This story must go down through the generations along with your own stories.
I love the bright variegated color used on the trim too! Pretty bright for so early in the 1960s.
What a lovely story. But what does Second Premium mean? Did someone do a better job and win First Premium?
Yes, and that person would have won a blue ribbon. I have never heard of it called a Premium instead of a Prize, so I don’t know the story behind that. Maybe a Montanan will fill us in!
20 years ago when I lived in a different county than the one I do now, I entered some handwoven pieces in the fair, just to show the craft was still alive. I won 2 blues — but I noticed that every entry in every category won a ribbon. No one went un-beribboned. I also won a cash prize, of $1 per entry! Prize money was set back in the 1930s and never adjusted for inflation. 🙂
What beautiful work – and what a lovely story! Certainly a well-deserved prize. I guess she must have made her wedding dress too, and from what I can see there is some fine lace work round the neck …. and at the bottom too?
I am pretty sure she did make it herself, either that or one of her sisters made it. I need to re-scan that picture at higher resolution to see the details better!
What a wonderful story and a family remembrance. Talented ladies in your family. 🙂
Thank you, I am so glad I got to know many of them in person. And now I feel like I know this one a little better too!
Love the wedding photo. Your ancestor’s expression seems to say, “he’s mine; you want to make something of it?”
I know! She does not look like a woman to be argued with!
You are so lucky to have all that family history, handmade items, and pictures. Seems like you came from a family of talented ladies.
Thank you. I feel very lucky to have gotten to spend time with all of them and to get to know them a little bit. They were hardworking and very generous, but found time to be creative too — great role models!
Beautiful and a captivating story! Thanks for sharing this. I can’t imagine sleeping on such lovely objects. The crochet trim also stood out to me.
We always slept on normal pillowcases but my funny story is that when I visited my grandmother one summer when I was about twelve, she had made a plan for me that I would embroider a set of pillow cases. I have never forgotten it and it still cracks me up to this day, as she had me embroider, “Life is what happens when you are making other plans” on every one. I don’t know if we still have any. I doubt it, as my mother is completely unsentimental. Oh the torture.
PS The wedding picture is terrific!
As you were embroidering those pillowcases, you were probably thinking, “I wish life would happen to me, but I have to sit still and embroider instead!” I hope they turn up! It would be fun to see your early stitching.
You are astute! 🙂
How wonderful the cards were with the pillowcases, and the maker is therfore remembered. I love this story.
Thank you! I love that even a second-place ribbon from a small fair was important enough for her to keep! 🙂
This is awesome! I always love to find a tag or other identification with linens, and to know she won a prize for her work–really neat. She looks like a strong-willed, confident woman!
I thought this would be up your alley! I was glad to find out something else about her to add to her story.
D > Thanks for sharing this. It’s a magical glimpse into another life, another age. 1962 America (pre Kennedy assassination) was no doubt as different a place to 2017 as it was in the UK. And yest I do remember it – my fifth birthday was that year.
I remember that too!
Wouldn’t Gertrude be surprised to know that her pillowcases are evoking memories for so many people! 🙂
I’m so glad you went through the box and shared this story with us. Gertrude looks like a sturdy young woman, perhaps well suited to a life in Montana! We have a couple of pairs of pillowcases Jim’s mom embroidered, but they are not beautiful. One pair has a crocheted edge, which is very nice. One pair is an unattractive grass green. Both sets are made from polyester. Still, I’m glad to have them.
What a beautiful piece of embroidery and how nice to have the tag. I love her look, the tilt of her head and yeah……….what are you going to do about it?? LOL Thank you.
The photographer had probably given her a direction like, “Turn a little sideways to the camera,” and she was saying, “I think I know my own best angle, thank you very much!”
Pillowcases! We had drawers full of them, and in our family’s collection, mostly crocheted trim and ornaments sewn to the ends. I think I re-homed the last ones a dozen years ago. Thank you for sharing and for bringing back sweet memories – and congratulations on the nice surprise you discovered! I loved seeing the photo.
I love the ric rac crocheted edging. Thanks for sharing the pretty pillow cases.
I have included your blog in INTERESTING BLOGS OR GENERAL INTEREST in FRIDAY FOSSICKING… at
Thank you, Chris
I love the wedding picture! Makes me want to get out some of my old family photos 🙂
Hi, My name is Kyle Luck and John Lahoda was my third great uncle thanks for sharing that picture great story and great embroidery.
Hurray! Because I don’t know anything at all about them. If you have any info to share, like where exactly they lived in Montana, or how long they herded sheep, I would love to hear it. My email is texasstorm at outlook dot com.