Never throw shabby old needlework away, begs a lover of vintage linen
Take it to a charity shop or the school fair, sell it to a second-hand shop or put it up for auction. But please, please don’t throw it out. The sight of rubbish bags stacked on verandahs and porches breaks the heart of linen lady Vicki Mossong. It can be a sign that someone is clearing out the linen cupboard and that old needlework such as tray cloths and tablecloths are headed for the tip.
Linen cupboards hold treasures, in the eyes of collectors such as Vicki. Sometimes the item’s value lies in its social history rather than its monetary worth, but either way old needlework is precious and shouldn’t be dumped.
“If you think Grandma’s old tea cloths are not worth selling, at least give them to a charity shop,” pleads Vicki. “Then they will almost certainly go to someone who will love them.”
It was a linen tablecloth handworked by her grandmother that started Vicki’s habit. Begun just after World War II, the embroidered pattern of New Zealand native plants was finally completed by the patient needlewoman in the 1980s. Vicki’s other grandmother, meanwhile, crocheted a tea cloth for each of her granddaughters. Both grandmothers taught Vicki needlework, but though she embroiders well she has never reached their level of craftsmanship.
“I am extraordinarily left-handed. People laugh when I knit.”
Vicki owns hundreds of hand-stitched items, including her grandmothers’ work. Much of the linen she handles is destined to be sold at the antiques fairs she visits throughout the year as a dealer in antique and vintage linen. But pieces that are part of her family heritage, items of uniquely high quality and pieces that simply take her fancy are firmly held in her private collection.
Among the hundreds of never-to-be-sold pieces are a needlewoman’s sampler dated 1909, showing different stitches, seams and buttonholes, a patchwork cot cover made out of old neckties and an art deco apron with a lady holding a cornucopia, which forms the pocket. Other favourites are embroidered days-of-the-week tea towels, a collection of carver cloths (to protect the tablecloth from spills as the Sunday roast was carved), a 1940s crocheted apron with pleats and a crocheted tea cosy featuring the famous New Zealand racehorse Carbine.
From overseas, there is an antique Burmese wall hanging, a Napoleonic era embroidered silk shawl from France, an Indian Banaras stole woven with gold and silver thread and an Indonesian wedding cloth. “I love quality needlework and quirky and interesting pieces that tell a story,” says Vicki.
“I’m fascinated by military needle-work at the moment. One day I will find a patchwork quilt made out of old uniforms, of the kind made by returned soldiers in rehabilitation. I’m sure someone’s dog is sleeping on one!”
Above: Vicki Mossong with her Australian terrier Morrie. Below: An embroidered French silk shawl from the Napoleonic era; A blue and white collection includes a needleworked willow pattern tea cloth; An embroidered lace wedding veil; Vicki looks first at the quality of the needlework but she also cherishes the social history attached to each piece. Vicki’s grandmother’s handworked tablecloth, which started the collection.
Vicki Mossong is helping to organise the Auckland Vintage Textile Fair at Alexandra Park Raceway on September 12.
Story: Pam Neville
Photographs: Jane Ussher