Feed Sacks and Embroidery Floss

This past Sunday, I sat behind my friend Kristin Heiden at church. She’s our Associate Minister for Adult Discipleship at Roswell United Methodist Church.  She was wearing her robe and stole to assist in serving Communion and I particularly noticed her stole.  It was a simple, white, coarse cloth, with simple embroidery on it.  She told me that she got it when she was in Jerusalem.

wren-0703-f-v00-WrenKids-1968
Front: Pearl Hudson Wren (Grannie), Norvelle Wren; Back: Hudson Wren, Mildred Wren Whitten, 1968

But, it reminded me of some other coarse, embroidered cloth that I had seen.  My great-grandmother, Pearl Hudson Wren (Grannie to us), and my great-aunt, Mildred Wren Whitten, made tea towels forever.  They lived out in the country, in Nevada County, Arkansas and learned to be thrifty and not waste things.  They would take old feed sacks and bleach and iron them smooth and clean.  Then, they would embroider simple patterns on them.  Rather than doing this by hand, since you need lots of tea towels, they used the old treadle Singer sewing machine.  They would wind embroidery floss around the bobbin instead of the spool and do things upside down, since they wanted the stitching to end up on top of the towel so you could see it.  Just wanted to add a little splash of color and care to something very mundane and ordinary.

I have a bunch of these towels. I don’t use them any more, but I don’t see any reason not to.  Grannie and Mildred certainly didn’t view this as making a keepsake.  But, I like to keep them to remember them and remember being with them.  Grannie was already sick by the time I came along and not able to be up and around much.  But I never saw Mildred without a big smile.  She kept close track of her family and friends, recording births, deaths, anniversaries, birthdays, who was sick and who was traveling in her diary.  She ministered and looked after all of her folks.

So, Kristen’s stole reminded me of Mildred and Grannie and their tea towels. And Mildred reminded me of another towel: the one that Jesus used to wash and wipe the Apostle’s feet at the last supper.  That big circle made me realize how appropriate it was for someone who had committed her life to the helping ministries by being ordained a deacon to have a simple, coarse stole, like Jesus’ towel, to signify her role and mission.  Thanks, Kristin for the memory and reminder!

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