Two boxes of beautiful old linens sat in the laundry room. They had been there for a while, but I hadn’t gotten to sorting through them. So many beautiful hand embroidered linens, I can’t say no, when people offer to send them to me.
I’ll make them into a quilt, I thought and emptied the boxes into the washing machine.
Yesterday I piled the linens up on the work table in my studio and began ironing them, cutting around the stains and sewing them together. As I stitched a triangle-shaped napkin onto a rectangular linen towel, I though of the envelopes Emily Dickinson used to write parts of her poems on.
She’d flatten out the envelopes and use them as scrap paper. The Book Emily Dickinson The Gorgeous Nothings is a book about these poems written on envelopes. It’s filled with photographs of the envelopes with translations of the poems (it’s not always easy to read her handwriting) on the opposite page.
They are beautiful objects, all different sizes and shapes and shades of white.
Then of course, I couldn’t help but think of the movie I just saw Wild Night’s With Emily, about Dickinson’s real life. Not the life so many people would rather believe for all these years about the reclusive poet afraid to show anyone her work. But the lesbian woman who lived a good life filled with love and work in a world that tried to deny her of both. (She had a life long love affair with the woman who married her brother).
When ever I’m working with these old linens I think of the woman who made them.
I imagine some of the were artists and this was their only creative outlet. I think of women getting together to embroider linens as a way to gather and talk privately among themselves. And I think of the women who didn’t want to embroider linens, who would rather be reading books or learning a profession.
I think of everything not said, the secrets, the longings and desires.
I’m going to use parts of Emily Dickinson’s poems in this quilt. I’ll find the poems or pieces of them that speak to these ideas of women and secrecy, and write them on some of the linens. I still have to figure this all out, but I’ll take you with me as I do.
Secrets By Emily Dickinson
“The skies can’t keep their secret!
They tell it to the hills —
The hills just tell the orchards —
And they the daffodils!”