Stories told through textiles

Published 1:31 pm Friday, September 13, 2019

By Diana McFarland

Managing editor

Money was tight after the war. Dress fabric was especially expensive after years of rationing.

But that didn’t stop one Wakefield couple.

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James Renney Sr. returned home after serving as a paratrooper in World War II. He was set to marry his sweetheart, Ila Mae Skinner.

With his bride unable to afford a wedding dress, Renney scrounged around and offered up his silk parachute. 

He had saved several items from his time in the war, and the parachute was one of them. 

Skinner took the silk parachute to her mother, Grace, and asked if she could create a dress. She could and she did. 

The wedding dress, along with many other textiles — to include a “crazy” quilt by a former Isle of Wight County resident, is part of the Wakefield Historical Association’s upcoming textile exhibit. The exhibit is part of the annual Wakefield Foundation Family Day and Homecoming, Saturday, Oct. 5, 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Wakefield High School Building. 

Hannah Barlow Bain, 92, still remembers the scraps that came from her “Sunday dress” that ended up in a colorful crazy quilt pieced and embroidered in the 1920s by her grandmother, Augusta White Holleman, when she lived in Isle of Wight County. 

Bain said she had worn the dress when she was 10 years old. Other scraps come from the dresses of her sister and mother. 

The quilt had been kept in a trunk so the colors are still vibrant. It is fashioned in the once popular “crazy quilt” pattern, popular during the Victorian era. 

Holleman, who was born before the Civil War, in 1859, died in 1941 at the age of 82. 

Bain estimates that Holleman worked on the quilt about 20 years prior to her death. She doesn’t know how long it took to complete. 

Bain does remember her mother and grandmother working on the quilt in the afternoons. 

Although many crazy quilts used silks and velvets, this quilt uses early synthetics instead. There is intricate embroidery throughout — another hallmark of a Victorian era crazy quilt. 

Ironically, Bain never did learn to sew. She bought some material — once — for a pair of shorts that her mother ended up finishing for her. 

The exhibit will also include other homemade textiles with interesting family stories, a restored “barn loom” and lace stretcher. 

The barn loom was called as such because it was too big to keep in the house and was set up in the barn instead, said Marvin Lanier, who worked with craftsmen from Colonial Williamsburg to put it back together.

Thomas O. Huber has compiled more than 70 stories about the various items for a book titled “Wakefield Textiles and Their Stories.” It will be available at the show. 

The Wakefield Historical Association, made up of seven Board members, decided to host the textile exhibit after having success with a quilt show. 

The quilt show was so well received that the Association decided to expand the topic to include other items, such as wedding dresses, christening gowns, knitting and tools used to make fabric and other textiles.