tapestry showing a winter scene of a man pushing a woman on a sleigh

My mother-in-law, who always went by Nana, made this tapestry specifically for our children. It still hangs in what used to be the main children’s room in our home.

Welcome to Day 2 of my countdown towards my online course Capturing Family History in a Book of My Things, which begins on January 16, 2022. Each day I am sharing a story about a family object, including tidbits of my process putting it together. I hope that’ll give you some ideas and inspire you to come up with your own stories. And of course I’d love it if you joined the course! 😉

My mother-in-law’s main hobby was stitching these tapestries.

Being a native of Paris, France, she called them “gobelins.”

Indeed, these tapestries use the characteristic simple diagonal stitch spanning two holes in the canvas.

I’ve always had a weakness for needlework myself. On my first long stay in Paris when I was nineteen, one of my first sightseeing visits was the Gobelins Manufacture Museum. That was quite some time before I met my mother-in-law!

close up of stitch work on handmade gobelin tapestry

Detail of the stitch work on the sleigh motif tapestry

Nana took up creating tapestries when her daughter, her youngest child, got kidney cancer as a toddler.

Nana hardly ever talked about that child, who died at age four. I don’t think she ever got over that loss. From when I first met her, I knew about her hobby of making “gobelins.” She always had at least one project going, and my parents-in-law’s house was full of her creations.

Tapestry of woman in a red dress standing by a tree

This tapestry now hangs in our hallway. It was always my husband’s favorite from when it hung in his parents’ house. Thankfully we got it after Nana passed away.

Nana – photo was probably taken in the 1990s

It wasn’t until Nana had a fainting episode during a visit with us, and I sat by her bedside, that she told me she took up that craft to pass the time while sitting at her baby’s bedside.

Aside from keeping her hands busy and passing the time creatively, needlework is also therapeutic.

I didn’t realize that until fairly recently when, during some heartache of my own, I picked up a cross stitch project. The motion of moving the needle back and forth is so soothing! I felt as if I was figuratively mending my heart. And it reminded me of all the women in my family who did needlework, and my own child self when I learned how to do cross stitch in 5th grade. That feeling of connection is so healing!

To do: Find a picture of my very first cross stitch project. It was an image of a rooster, which I had designed myself. It used to hang in my grandmother’s hallway. I have no idea what happened to it but there’s got to be a picture of it somewhere!

Nana was always on the lookout for new tapestry patterns.

Nana’s unstretched and unframed canvas of woodland deer scene from “Creations Margot de Paris”

Nana spent all of her adult life living in Munich, Germany. Nevertheless, she usually bought her tapestry patterns in France, see the label in the above unframed canvas.

The gobelins were made with wool thread.

Nana explained to me once that she took her liberties in following the tapestry color pattern.

She’d judge for herself which shade of blue, for example, would fit best. And of course she had a treasure trove of yarn! She was also a fairly good painter, hence her attention to colors.

Backside of woodland deer scene canvas

Nana’s needlework was so pristine! No dangling threads or knots on the backside of the canvas!

I just rediscovered this woodland deer scene canvas as I was preparing this blog post.

Side note on process: Writing stories about family objects will have you rummaging around your house and storage units. I found this one in a stash of unframed canvases in our hallway closet.

Time to get it stretched and mounted onto a frame! (You can see how distorted a canvas can become if it’s just lying around.) Come to think of it, these one would fit well into our country home in the woods of Indiana, where the deer rule the roost.

It took me, by the way, quite some time to warm up to having these gobelins on display.

Too many of them, I find, create a musty atmosphere. They don’t really go with my more pared-down modern taste in interior decorating. However, since they are unique artifacts created by my mother-in-law, the ones we do display hold a place of honor.