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Trapunto Embroidery

I wrote on Sunday about my Granny Sligh and her life. I wanted to focus this post on a gift that she created for our family one Christmas, a handmade legacy of love.

To the best of my knowledge, one year for Christmas Granny worked on one of these framed pictures for each of her seven children. It must have taken quite a bit of planning to purchase and execute this work on a limited income, not to mention the hours of work that would have gone into assembling and stitching the work, plus framing. This particular picture hung in the family room of our home for many years.

I would judge this to be a simple version of a form of embroidery called "trapunto." A visit to my trusty Wikipedia link tells me that trapunto is taken from the Italian word for "to quilt" and was used to raised the surface of a quilt by inserting batting or padding and sewing around the design to create a multi-dimensional effect. Granny would have chosen a fabric that had designs such as the horses you see here, and by hand, would have traced the outlines of the horses after inserting batting. I can suppose that she might have learned this technique from quilters in her life though I have no specific knowledge of how she came to know the method involved. As one can see in this photo, the stitches that create the effect are almost imperceptible.

I don't remember being very impressed with this gift when we received it. I suppose as a child I was more focused on things that could be bought and that might appeal to my interests, such as books and toys. To me, this framed piece was sort of a relic of another time, and I did not appreciate its worth. I am sorry that I did not recognize the work that was involved, nor did I talk to Granny Sligh about how it was created and how she learned to stitch. But despite that lack of understanding, the piece survives and speaks to anyone who cares to hear about sacrifice and skill all these years later.

And that's the value of handmade objects. When they survive, and many of them do, they are documents for us to read and understand in exploring our past -- both our individual and family histories, and the values of our culture. The fact that Granny Sligh used her own hands to stitch this work imbues it with her spirit and the quality of love and service that she infused into the stitches. This becomes a family legacy, not for its beauty or skill, but for the story of my inheritance passed along from one generation to the next.

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