Back to previous page



My Treasure Chest of Hope



By Marjorie Malloff


It was tradition  in the ‘50s, to start a girl-child on simple yarn or textile, hand crafted projects and to begin the process of filling a wooden trunk-like chest.  Her Hope Chest would usually be constructed, by the father or grandfather, of the best material a family could afford.


My first-attempt embroidery project at age 10 was a lot more about ‘hope’ than about adding to the treasure that gradually filled my hope chest over the years.  That now-shabby dishtowel still makes me smile, and when nobody is watching, brings a little tear to the eye, for it holds as many memories of my experience of leaning this craft as it does of the Grandmother who patiently tried to teach it to me.


Her tattered box of embroidery patterns was kept on a high shelf, safe out of reach.  It was a treat worth waiting for, when she would take time from her daily chores to bring it down and we could sort through the patterns, trying to decide which design we wanted to work.  Some patterns were store-bought, while others were painstakingly traced on scraps of tissue paper which had been separated from purchases (usually toe stuffing in shoes), carefully smoothed out and kept for just this purpose. The patterns were used over and over and I don’t recall any brand new ones that could just be ironed on.  So, after choosing the pattern,  it would then have to be traced onto the fabric.  The right kind of tracing paper was a treasure in itself, usually saved from an invoice book.  It was only years later that I realized carbon tracing paper could actually be bought, just by itself.


With the tracing done, it was time for the highlight:  choosing the embroidery colours!  The cotton threads shared an old cookie tin with the silks.  Oh, what a thrill it was to open the tin and see all those colours!  Even the embroidery needles were in their own folded card , which when opened revealed needles arranged on bits of various coloured foil according to their size. I never did get proficient enough to embroider the delicate nylon Doukhobor head shawls with the silks, but in that childhood heart beat the hope of one day mastering such a skill.


So, although my contribution to my hope chest remained somewhat crude and limited to the basic embroidery of day-of-the-week dishtowels, simple tablecloths, and pillow cases, I was fortunate that other family members contributed, from Grandma’s delicate, intricate knit doilies and tablecloths, to Mother’s and big sister’s smocked aprons and crocheted creations..


In our family, it was also tradition to put into to the new hope chest of the young  daughter coming into womanhood, treasurers from previous generations  There was great-grandmothers pink apron – hand sewn with hand made lace, a brightly dyed woolen  cummerbund from Russia, traditional Doukhobor linen male attire, a table cloth with a drawn-worked design.  Then, at the very buttom of the aromatic cedar lined chest, in the safest place, between layers of tissue were our most honoured treasures:  great-great-grandmother Verigin’s apron and great-grandmother Verigin’s night dress, hand sewn with such tiny stitches, so evenly spaced.  The ruffles at the wrist gathered with the tiniest of folds.  Peter V. Lordly Verigin’s colourful blanket was my favourite. It was almost symbolic of the beauty of the people he had led and of the values he had instilled in their hearts, to be passed on to succeeding generations, who will find some of these treasures in their own Hope Chests.



Back to previous page


CIS Copyright