Friday, December 14, 2012

Inherited Treasure Part 1

Ragna with her husband, Adolph Krabbe
My Great Grandmother, Ragna Espenson Krabbe was born in Aalborg, Denmark. She married in Paris in 1900 and immigrated to the United States in 1904. She eventually settled in Bellingham in the state of Washington where she raised four children, the youngest of which became my grandmother, Esther Ragna Krabbe Smith. Great Grandmother Ragna was an accomplished needlewoman and my mother, Sylvia and her sisters remember Ragna working for hours on various needlework projects over the years as she created lace and embroidery, need point and knitting by the hour. An early photo of Ragna taken while she was still living in Denmark and which I have include here, shows a parlor scene in which a family of mostly women are seated around a table. Ragna is the one to the far left stitching on a white piece of cloth. I feel a special connection to Ragna, not just because she is my great grandmother, but because she so obviously enjoyed spending time with fiber, needles and thread. I have inherited many of her hand made pieces all ranging from cutwork embroidery, to bobbin lace, crochet and even a beaded purse. I have her small white crochet hook and the stiletto she used in her cutwork among other items she worked with. I thought I'd share some of her work here on my blog and share a bit about her needlework and the woman she was since history, family connections and needle work are all so closely connected and what universally has linked women together all around the world no matter what country or culture.

This is a photo of the photo I own so it is a blurrier than the original but you get the idea. These are Ragna seated with her sisters and her grandmother, so I guess that makes the lady in the white lace cap my great-great-grandmother. Ragna and her siblings (which included one brother) were raised by their grandmother. Incidentally, the two sisters standing behind the group are winding yarn.

The frist thing I would like to share with you from the trove of Ragna's work are the four bedspreads Ragna made out of thin cotton thread and a small crochet hook, perhaps a size #10. They are approximately 82 x102 inches and I believe they were made in the 1930's as I still have the pattern book she used as well as a skein of the thread. I can imagine her crocheting through the depression and the war. Did she crochet on these while listening to war reports on the radio? When Pearl Harbor was bombed and her daughter, Esther, came home in tears afraid for the husband stationed there on board ship, was this the work Ragna stood up from to comfort her? Later, my grandmother Esther inherited the spreads and I remember them on the beds at her house when I was a little girl. Now I have them and on a bed in my house now rests one of these Grandma Ragna's spreads.

The pattern book is full of beautiful blocks to crochet into spreads and table cloths. Ragna crochet the pattern on the right.

There is one unfinished spread and a pile of blocks waiting to be added. I picture them here next to Ragna's sewing machine. When I look at each of the stitches in each one of the blocks and then through out the thread I feel as if I was looking at one individual moment in Grandma Ragna's life. It is as if each stitch makes the time visible, time that was part of her life. Maybe I will learn how to attach the blocks to one another and finish the last spread. I can see on the backs of the finished threads how Ragna herself got better at this, though all of the behind the scene threads connecting the work together is nearly invisible and hard to detect. That isn't what you'll find about the threads that connect Ragna and me. 

The front cover of the pattern book. The publishing date on the inside is 1935

More of Ragna and her other needlework to come in future posts.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful! My grandmother on my mother's side of my family sewed for her family, knitted, and crocheted stunning pieces. Sadly the only pieces left behind are in photos or just a few pieces my mother has in her possession. This is due to the fact that some how they became ruined and where tossed out however no one seemed to ask about this pieces they just tossed them out. I know there is something very sad about these items as my mother can barely talk about why they are gone. I do know my mother and aunt grew up in beautiful hand sewn pieces and knitted sweaters all of which are long gone.

    Now that so many people are interested in hand crafts may be more pieces will be saved for the future generations.