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Monday, May 23, 2011

My Dad's 1946 Needlework

My father, Len Haynes, married my mother, Sylvia Ray, in Sydney in January 1946. He was on the British aircraft carrier Formidable in the Indian Ocean when it was kamikazied in 1945 and met my mother in Sydney while the ship was being repaired.

 The Formidable was off the coast of Japan during the bombing of Hiroshima and brought prisoners of war back to Australia on the conclusion of the War. Len chose to be demobilised in Sydney, marry and settle.

As there was a severe housing shortage in Sydney after the War, my parents lived with Sylvia's parents for seven years. Len liked to do things with his hands. Boarding with my grandparents he had none of the scope to build furniture and improve the house that he had when he and Sylvia bought their own home in 1953. In that first year of their marriage Len turned his hand to creating with thread.

I don't know what the technique is called, but Dad says he had a magazine article to work from, and it drew on the knot work that he was adept at from his time in the navy.

He made a couple of doilies as a trial using faux silk (green rayon) and cotton (multi-colour, below) thread.

Then he made a pram cover and pillow in wool for the children they had in 1947 and 1948. The pram cover served my dolls and my daughters' dolls before disintegrating, but the pillow cover for the pram is still preserved.

After 1947, Len put his creative energies into other things, knotting rope for his brother-in-law's boat or my skipping ropes, making a doll's house out of dead matches and eventually converting and furnishing a house to meet his family's needs. This is the only needlework technique he worked on.

I took the pieces in this blog post along to a recent Embroiderers' Guild of South Australia Heirloom Identification Day to see if I could get some more information about the technique. No one could give it a name, or find it in any of the library books, but the experts were able to work out how it was done.

You begin by making a wooden frame, the size of the finished article and driving narrow-head nails all around the frame at even intervals -  like a French knitting (or tomboy) bobbin, but larger and square or rectangular.  Thread is wound both vertically and horizontally across the frame from one nail to the nail opposite to form a grid of thread bundles. Another thread is then taken diagonally from corner to corner, tying up each  intersection of vertical and horizontal threads on the grid across the diagonal.

It shows most clearly on the back of this multicoloured mat. It is about 25 cm square.

You then make little tufts on the right side by tying  tassels at each intersection and tufting them close to the surface.

I can see why it didn't catch on as a craft form, but all power to my dad for his patience and contribution of the pram cover to the preparations for their family in times of shortage.

Thanks to my daughter Katherine for  preserving and photographing the pillow cover.


Jillian Cheek said...

I haven't got one to check with, but I have a feeling that some doormats may have been made using this technique. It teases my memory. I don't suppose there were instructions for it in Arthur Mees encyclopaedia?
How wonderful still to have these pieces, and to have been able to document them.

Jillian said...

I couldn't find anything similar in the Arthur Mees that is online. I did however, find how to make a wizard's handkerchief!

I suspect it was in a newspaper article or a magazine. I'll have another go at asking Dad next time I see him. He sometimes remembers detail but at other times is disinterested.