Friday, January 28, 2011

A Hope Chest Philosophy

A longing for home is one of the deepest, most fundamental desires of the human soul. For as long as humans have sought shelter, we have also sought to make that shelter more comfortable and even beautiful. In spite of modern rhetoric regarding the role of women, and the pressure exerted by our society to offer our daughters the opportunity to be whatever they might dream of being, hope for a happy, comfortable home is a value that should not be discarded as old-fashioned.

Creating a home that fulfills such a deep, emotional need takes conscious thought and deliberate effort. In the midst of everyday pressures and modern influence, such desire and effort might be postponed or even discarded in favor of other choices. Sadly, if there is a lack of time and a lack of positive commitment to homemaking tasks, there may also be a parallel lack in the emotional comfort of a home. Many, many people simply make do with much less than would be comfortable, let alone pleasant or delightful.

The hope chest represents that deliberate choice to prepare, even ahead of time, a comforting home. It is a physical act that reflects a desire to provide for the future. But, preparing for the future is also a traditional value that has too often been discarded by an immature attitude that believes all good things will come to us as needed. Surely, the wedding guests will provide gifts! Surely, whatever is lacking can be found at the department store, in Grandma’s basement or even the thrift store. This may, indeed, be the case for some young women, but a hope chest is more than the physical items that are stored inside. Beyond the collection of recipes and cookware is the mastery of their use. Behind the careful embroidery on the pillowcases is the recognition that beauty adds cheer and satisfaction to our life. From the woven potholders and knitted dishcloths to the crocheted lace and patchwork quilts, a hope chest simply reveals hands that are trained to do things. And, behind the preparing and collecting is the satisfaction of having what you desire, instead of making do with what is available.

We don’t always know what our future holds. But some kind of home will be part of it. You can make it what you want it to be; what you hope it will be. That is the purpose of a hope chest.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Search for a Quality Dish Towel

In my youth, almost every girl, who had a hope chest, had a least one set of embroidered dish towels. If you are going to spend the effort to embroider on a dishtowel, I would strongly urge you to take a bit of trouble, before you begin, to find a worthy towel. Embroidery is much more difficult if the foundation fabric is poor.

Most of the flour sack dishtowels commonly found in stores are hardly worth the effort to embroider them. They are too often thin, and too loosely woven. They also don’t wash well and collect lint from other items in the wash. Compared to the towels I used for embroidery as a young woman, these are miserable imitations. They are white, and that is about all I can say for them.

As a result, I have been on an 8-year odyssey to find a reliable, reasonable source for suitable dishtowels. What do I look for? What do I recommend?

I first look for 100% cotton fiber with a good twist to the threads. Most of us know that, to be properly absorbent, a towel has to be 100% natural fiber. Of course, linen makes a wonderful dish towel, if you can afford it. But, cotton is pretty great as well, and much more reasonably priced. I try to buy fiber that is untreated by finishes. The twist in the threads also makes a difference. If the fiber twist is slack, the fabric is weaker and will wear out more quickly. It is less smooth in appearance and sometimes the fibers will pill. If the fiber twist is too tight, the towel will not be absorbent. Like Goldilocks, it has to be "just right."

I also look for a tight weave. Most flour sack towels have a plain, over-under weave. I gently stretch the fabric over the pad of my finger. If I can see any of my finger between the threads, I put the towel down and keep looking. Sometimes I can see the threads pull apart. Completely unsuitable. I often think of how glad I am not to have to carry flour in a bag made from that!

As I look at the fabric in a towel, I consider the embroidery stitches I commonly use. I know that, to be able to make an attractive satin stitch, I need the fabric to be tightly woven. Otherwise, the edges of the stitch will look ragged. When I make a french knot, I don’t want the knot to pull right through the fabric. Some embroidery designs have small elements and tight curves. These require small, or even tiny stitches. Such stitches are impossible on a loosely woven fabric.

I always check the local stores. Sometimes I come across a set of dish towels that are good enough, but not often. I once found a set of four towels under the Martha Stewart label at K-Mart. Sadly, they were not reliable from package to package or from store to store. Sometimes those you find at Sam’s Club are adequate, but sometimes they are like cheesecloth.You may have better luck at your local stores. I can make three good online recommendations.

The “fabric grade” flour sack towel at The Towel is a wonderful towel, perfect for embroidery. They are hemmed on all four sides and more on-grain than many others I’ve seen. They actually fold up squarely! These are like the towels I remember. However, these towels are largely beyond my purse. The towels themselves are a little pricey. A set of 6 is $19.99. But the shipping is so high that it essentially doubles the cost. You may consider the cost worth the quality, especially for a special set made for the hope chest. These are truly outstanding towels. You can buy a sample, if you wish, to compare them to lesser towels, but the shipping will kill you. ;o)

My second recommendation is the flour sack towels from I recently ordered another set and was pleased that the quality is still superior. The weave is tight and better than almost anything else out there. These towels are very suitable for embroidery. The price has just increased a bit recently, but the largest size is $15.99 for a set of 7. The towels are hemmed on all four sides, but like most other flour sack towels, they are not on-grain. This means that they don’t hang or fold straight. So, I buy the largest size, cut them to square them up and re-hem. This seems like a lot of work, but it makes a nicer set. Sometimes I add a colorful, calico border, as long as I’m going to the extra effort. Herrschners will also send you a print catalog, with all kinds of embroidery and yarn projects.

UPDATE - November 14, 2017: I have finally found the towel I LOVE! Mary's Kitchen Flour Sack Towels are my new go-to towel for hand embroidery and all other crafting for the hope chest. The quality is super! The fabric is tightly woven, sturdy - thick enough but not too thick. The towels are completely suitable for hand embroidery and all my other favorite methods of decorative treatments like stenciling, fabric painting and sewing. The quality weave is also absorbent, and the price is completely affordable! In fact, the price is lower than any other comparable towel that I can find on the market. The first 11 towels cost just $1.99 each, but buying a dozen (or more) will get each towel reduced to $1.69 each! And the best news is that the shipping is also very reasonable. Bonus - these towels are pre-washed and pre-shrunk so I can start crafting immediately! AND - they have that nice corner hanging strip. I am seriously happy to have access to these fabulous towels. Hooray!

Some people really don’t mind what towels they use, but I simply have to have a decent towel. If you have another reliable source for good, flour sack dish towels, please share that information in the comments. I’ll love you forever!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

A Peek Inside - Purple Dish Towels

These dishtowels began Miss Abigail’s hope chest. I made them when she was only four years old. Creating items for a daughter’s hope chest is something I’ve always wanted to do. Rearing three older sons had created a strong male identity in our family and I was anxious to begin such a female-oriented project. Since hand-embroidered kitchen towels were a traditional item in a hope chest, it seemed fitting to begin with dish towels.

Once everything is assembled and prepared, I love to embroider. But, setting up a new embroidery project can feel somewhat like an ordeal. I always have a hard time choosing between all my options! This pattern is one of the Aunt Martha’s series from the Colonial Pattern Company. I chose the purple color so the dishes would look like lovely amethyst Depression Glass.

I have many, many iron-on transfers. I haven’t used them all and probably cannot. I just love to sort through the envelopes and consider the designs and imagine the wonderful possibilities. I have more designs saved on my computer and even more tagged in favorite places on the Internet. You can see my favorite spots listed in the Resources on the sidebar. Miss Abigail could never use all the linen I dream about embroidering. I need new dishtowels in my own kitchen, but am backed up in my gift-giving obligations as well. Alas, embroidery is so time consuming!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Found One!

I regularly do searches for information about hope chests on the internet. I'm always so disappointed, but not today. :o)  Here is a wonderful post about a mom who had a hope chest and has a simple idea for starting one for her daughter. I hope you'll read it and enjoy it. I did.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

An Embroidered Tote Bag

This post describes how to make a nice monogrammed tote bag. I made mine for a 4-H project and the result is beautiful. I’m very happy with how well it turned out.

1. Create a design. It was required for my 4-H project to create an item with an original design. If you do not need to make an original design, you can find one online or look in some iron-on patterns.

2. Transfer your design to the tote bag. I am going to tell you a really neat trick. First cut a square around the design. Next flip it over and with a soft lead pencil, color over the back. Next place the design in the middle of the tote bag and tape it to hold it down. Next, use a stylus and trace carefully along your design, making sure you get it all on. The pressure from the stylus leaves a mark on the fabric from the paper. It was pretty faint on this rough fabric. I traced over the pencil marks with a transfer pen.

3. Embroidering. Now you choose the colors for your design. I used blue for the letter, with pink and yellow for accents. After choosing colors, thread your needle and make a knot so your thread wont pull through. Then embroider the stitches. I used the chain stitch to outline the A. I used the cross-stitch to accent the middle of the monogram and the lazy daisy and the satin stitch on the accent flower.

When you finish, you will have a pretty monogrammed bag to tote books and things in. :o)

Respectfully submitted by Miss Abigail.

(If you need help with stitch instructions please check out the link for the Stitch School Blog on the sidebar --km)

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Christmas Kitchen Towels

I wanted to share one last Christmas item as we move into the new year. With all the holiday cooking and baking that we do in our house, Miss Abigail and I need lots and lots of dish towels and hand towels. These hand towels were made from large, soft cotton napkins. They are 18" square. I like the smaller size. Because towels get wet and dirty quickly, I can reach for a clean one without creating a large pile of laundry.

Since I wanted to create something quickly, I sewed a purchased cluny lace near the hem on one side of the napkin and made a simple yo-yo decoration. Quick and easy and cute - that's what I like.
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