Friday, 16 November 2018

The Dining Room Curtains in Brain-Watkins House


Since my early teenage years I have been fascinated by beautiful needlework, inspired by the legacy of embroidery executed by both my mother and grandmother. In the days when the Brain ladies and my forebears were stitching, there was very little choice of fabric or embroidery thread in the local haberdashery stores, and most needlewomen imported parcels of white linen ‘scraps’ from Ireland as their only option. The wonderful variety of fabrics and threads available today began to drift into the shops in the mid-50s.

Brain-Watkins House has a splendid collection of needlework stitched by the women of the family. Many of their pieces would have taken many hours to complete, and are fine examples of their craft. There is some debate about when electricity came to Tauranga; it is suggested that it was between 1915 and 1917. Those ladies would have few amusements without radio or television, and needlework would have occupied some of their free time.

I have been amused by the crocheting on either side of the drop curtains in the lounge/dining room. There are four unlined curtains, each with a drop of 2.9 metres, using fabric thought to be rayon acetate. This was available during the Second World War to replace silk which was commandeered for the manufacture of parachutes. The acetate was strong and withstood the light, the brightly coloured ones in the dining room were probably hung in the 1940s. Each side of the curtain has been continuously crocheted with loops with two centimetres spaces.

In my opinion they add nothing to the aesthetic appearance of the curtains, the work is only noticeable to most people when pointed out to them. Had the ladies run out of materials to embroider, and were they looking for a task to fill the hours? Of course we will never know, but it seems a shame to have spent so much time on a project that is seldom appreciated.

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