A tablecloth that was a sleeping beauty for 125 years

During my visit to Germany in December 2019, my mother and I cleared out my uncle’s utterly cluttered apartment.  One of the treasures we found was a roll of handwoven linen. It had been woven by my maternal great-grandmother Luise, most likely during the first years of her marriage in the late 1890s or early 1900s before she had her hands full with four children (the youngest being my grandfather) and feeding the farmhands and grain mill workers at the family operations every day.

My great-grandmother Luise with her husband and four children, around 1912. The little guy in the center (in a dress!) is my grandfather.

The fabric looked very familiar. My mother had sewn an apron from it in school during the meager, difficult postwar 1950s when fabric was still scarce in Germany. At that point, the roll of fabric had survived two World Wars in the middle of Europe. 

The apron immigrated with me to the United States in 1998 and I wore it often. It became my photo op outfit for articles and events related to German food as well as for my cookbook and blog Spoonfuls of Germany. It is a densely woven and sturdy linen but it started showing its age and I did not want it to fall apart so I retired it to a drawer with other family heirloom pieces.

Me posing with homegrown potatoes for an article I wrote for Eating Well in 2022.

The brand-new fabric found in my uncle’s apartment opened a world of opportunities. I wanted to turn it into something special but also practical for daily use. Our patio table could use a tablecloth, after my husband had drilled a hole in his home-built cedar table so it would fit an umbrella, any of the normal tablecloths did not fit any longer. The table needed a tablecloth with an umbrella hole and a zipper.

I was lucky to find the perfect person for the job, Brenda McGuire from Distinctively Sew in Allentown. She was just as excited as me about the history of the linen and went out of her way to test the fabric for shrinkage before she painstakingly sewed it into a marvel.

Now when I sit on the patio with cup of tea and enjoy the birds and bees humming around many of the plants I spend tending to for numerous hours each year, it’s at a table covered with a fabric that my great-grandmother’s hands touched for many hours 125 years ago on another continent. It connects my beloved garden, the here and now, to the distant past, and that feels very special and precious.

Photos by Ted Rosen


One thought on “A tablecloth that was a sleeping beauty for 125 years

  1. Hi, I just bought Spoonful of Germany. And I am absolutely engrossed in reading. I adore your relating stories of food and history; and, of course , the wide variety of German recipes. I am from the Rheinland. Some of the recipes, of course, I have never had, never heard of but am eager to give them a try; that is after finishing reading the entire book. Spoonful of Germany is more than a cookbook, at least to me. I totally relate to your linen story also.
    Thank you for sharing some Germany with me.


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