The light at the end of this tunnel has a shadowy figure of unfinished dolls. Well, until my path reaches them, I'm keeping company with these gorgeous fabrics. The green pillow is new Chinese brocade, a silk/rayon blend. The vivid blue one is vintage silk. I enjoy them both and most hand stitches disappear into the rich fabric. I love brocade.
My paternal grandmother was from southern China. She arrived in the U.S. in 1923 accompanied by her husband. Grandpa had already been in the U.S. for 13 years, but returned to his homeland to bring his wife to "Gold Mountain." He had been making a living as a cook to wealthy San Franciscans, sending money home to his wife. When she was a young girl, Grandma's feet were bound – they were tightly wrapped to stay small, and it was a painfully handicapping tradition that made Chinese women more "marriageable." She hobbled about in her long Chinese dresses. When I knew her, Grandma was already in her seventies and her eyesight was failing. During visits she'd ask me to thread her needles. I didn't have hand sewing skills then, yet I clearly recall turning over the seams of the silk brocade cheongsam which she wore to view tiny, even stitches. I insisted that she didn't need me to thread these needles, for these were clearly done on a machine. I was wrong -- her garments were sewn entirely by hand. It made sense; I remember notions kept a 12" square cardboard box from the White House department store, but no sewing machine.
After Grandma stopped sewing, she gave me a length of red and black brocade from the back of the closet. It was enough for a Chinese dress. Over the years I cut into it, making various things, a square pillow or two, a heart shaped sachet for a friend who lost her eyesight. There was more, but I can't remember what happened to the rest. I still have one small piece left in my collection. This was the beginning of my love for brocade.