I’ve started making new things from old – beautiful, forgotten linens and blankets, usually found hidden in the back corner of an op shop, or buried under a pile of remnants at some secondhand Melbourne market.
I’m often drawn to a piece by the embroidery, a flash of a favourite colour, or the texture of a coarse linen. The other thing that fascinates me is the story behind it. Every one of these treasures belonged to someone. A cloth adorning the family dinner table or a blanket used to keep a little one warm.
Although most of the treasures I collect have a history I will never know, occasionally I’m blessed to find out something that makes the piece not only beautiful, and lined with potential, but special because a word of history comes along with it.
If have you read my first post, you’ll have become acquainted with my mother. A remarkable woman, with a remarkable life, and the other day she gifted me with one such story.
My mother was born in Czechoslovakia in 1939. Clearly, a difficult year to be born in Eastern Europe, and what followed was a childhood marked by war and some incredible memoirs. She migrated, by boat, to Australia in 1951, at the age of 12 and with her parents and many other Europeans, went to stay in a former Army Camp ‘Bonegilla’, near Albury, before she moved to Sydney to begin her high school years and a new chapter in her life.
My mother, Sieglinde (right), in Czech national costume as part of a procession to celebrate the Australian Eucharistic Congress (Catholic) in Sydney in 1953.
The other day I emailed Mum some photos of preloved and reloved items I have been making. She always champions me – she is, I feel, overly generous in her praise, but who doesn’t want to hear how wonderfully clever they are from the one who started it all? So I eagerly awaited her evaluation of my makings, and it came back with a tale.
The photo I sent her of the Tweedside Shopper with the label on it had caught her attention. The label on the bag carried a memory with it. At Bonegilla Camp, all migrants had been issued with an army stretcher to sleep on and bedding. The ‘D^D’ blankets provided for them happened to be the very same type that I had made this bag out of.
To me, the blanket was simply a functional army blanket I found at the local Salvos, one that would do well to be transformed into a stylish shopping bag,
To her ‘D^D’ is Department of Defence and the woollen bag was a memory going back 65 years, to a time when a young Czech girl with long plaits, a gentle smile and an uncertain future lay in a camp stretcher under a grey woolen army blanket, dreaming of what life could possibly be like in this new land, Australia.