Anonymous Was a Woman

In A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)wrote:

“Indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.”

Woolf’s phrase comes to mind every time I re-read Piecework or drool over vintage handmade clothing, accessories, bed linens or quilts on display in museums or antique stores.

What do we learn about the piece?

  • Type of craft (e.g., knit, filet crochet, tatted, etc.)
  • fiber (e.g., cotton, silk, wool, etc.)
  • original purpose (e.g., dinner dress or shelf liner)
  • original owner (maybe)
  • time period made (within a range)
  • donor or current owner (unless item was discovered in a second-hand store)

But what we probably don’t learn about the piece is so sad to me:

  • the names of the people (most probably women) who actually made the piece
  • (frequently) the name of designer

Because of the modern technology available to us, I think all crafting artists should think about cataloguing their work in some way. I have long kept large, wire bound journals in which I log my sketches, graphs, and instructions (sort of) for everything I’ve made for family and close friends. Each project has a name – generally very uncreative – along the line of “Cabled Sweater for Thor’s Birthday 2011.” I also add samples of the yarns used, the label of each fiber used and, if hand spun, the name and date of the critical people involved (e.g., wool grower, spinner and/or dyer). I note the date begun and the date completed and include any pictures I take. (I have separate journals for weaving, spinning and dying projects.)

As a child, I always pestered my grandmother about who made what, when, and why. And she always patiently answered. My daughter, however, did not take after me in that regard. Thus as I walk around my house, I see many items that, should I drop dead tomorrow, my daughter and grandchildren will not know who made what, when and why. I want my daughter and grandchildren to value, love and care for these treasures made by my amazing foremothers – Hardanger table cloths, stitched wall hangings, crocheted bed coverings, woven table runners, etc. I shudder at the thought of these items, so precious to me, could end up tossed in a donation box for Goodwill after I’m gone.

I have all this family textile history in my head, and I need to transfer it to some electronic form for my children, grandchildren and others down the line. So I decided to start to catalogue them. I’m thinking of photographing each item and creating an electronic book with information about and photograph of each maker. I have also decided to have some professional labels made – not the “Made with Love by Grandma” types – for my pieces. 🙂

I am interested to know whether other textile and fiber folks have done this and, if so, how; whether you made your own labels and, if so, how; and/or whether you had labels custom made and, if so, how. ???


About sweatyknitter

Fiber art devotee, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
This entry was posted in Crocheting, Knitting, Other Fiber Arts. Bookmark the permalink.

20 Responses to Anonymous Was a Woman

  1. Thanks for checking out my blog. I am glad you enjoyed the post. I think it is easy to forget our art may outlast us!


  2. Thanks for reminding us crafters about this. I used to keep pictures of things I made and now most of them are on Shutterfly. I have not been so good lately about keeping track as I make so many things. I do have some on my blog, but guess I should be better about keeping track. I is wonderful to see something done years ago and wonder about the person that made it. Beautiful article!


  3. I know the feeling. I’m nudging myself too! 🙂


  4. I have several notebooks scattered around with my WIPs but sometimes I lose my notes after I’m done. Now that I’m trying to blog and get some designs ready for publication, I’m trying to get better. I’ve never labeled any of the few things I’ve made for people. I should start. I have a box of sweaters my husband’s great aunt made for his mother. And I have other things people have made for me over the years. Thanks for the nudge to get things labeled before the knowledge about them is lost.


  5. Until you mentioned linens, I forgot about all the hardanger table toppers that my grandmother made – and I see them everyday! Thanks for the reminder. 🙂


  6. Thanks for telling me about Worldwide – I will check them out. I am glad you enjoy my blog. Thank you for your feedback and comments! Karen


  7. Great suggestions – thanks! I will take a peek at Mini Moo too.


  8. Thanks for reading! I have no labels but haven’t yet found a company I want to order custom labels from. Let me know if you find some good ones. 🙂


  9. I will be doing it too … You are not the only one – I suspect we outnumber those who catalogue everything. 🙂


  10. Thanks for reading! People are posting interesting ideas for labeling. If you come across any good sites for ordering sew-in labels, please let me know!


  11. Vistaprint is great, isn’t it?! I have a Sweaty Knitter card but it’s not for attaching to projects. I will have to get another one made for projects!


  12. I have never thought of creative names for my project … Always boring titles such as “Warm Winter Sweater” and so admire those who come up with beautiful names!


  13. Slowerpoke says:

    I’m finding the questions and replies quite interesting. Right now my only documentation of my projects is on Ravelry, with some additional info in my blog.

    The one thing i have done is to get “business cards” made up by Vistaprint. One set is for finished projects, saying Handmade by my real name, then a space for fiber content and a space for care. The other set is for my spinning, with headings for various attributes of the yarn. These cards can be hole punched and then attached to the project or to the yarn, respectively. However, i have not been the most faithful labeling my yarn, and projects that i have kept have no card.

    I would say that keeping track of my own projects is a work-in-progress, and will therefore be keeping an eye on your responses to this post. Thanks for bringing this subject up.


  14. Northern Narratives says:

    I take a photo of my finished projects and keep the photos with the patterns on my computer. I also name my projects. Great idea to get professional lables 🙂


  15. Curls & Q says:

    I love the anon and will now think of you when I see it! 😎 My s-i-l runs a local factory which designs hats, etc. He has some hat patents. He was out a couple of weeks ago to give ordered hats to the US Olympic rowing team. Off topic. 😎 A few years ago, I asked him to design a label for me and please order from his label place. He said he’d be happy to. Do I have them? So, I need to re-ask when we are in Austin. I too want labels that say more than “Made by Grandma”. I do label my quilts with name and date. As usual, great post! 😎


  16. ethgran says:

    This blog was an eye opener to me. My mother carefully labeled all the things that she passed down to me of pieces of ancestral possession or work. There were five of us so I only have a fifth of what there was. I have interesting things like the bone shuttle that my great grandmother used to weave linen, plus a small piece of her work – she even made herself a shroud. But sadly I don’t have anything that my mother made. Her particular craft was tatting but I don’t have a single piece of it. She didn’t knit but did crochet – again, nothing. I don’t think she valued her work much. Even though she showed so much pride in all the things I have made down the years, her attitude about her own work has rubbed off on me. I need to reverse it and start cataloging what I have done and continue to churn out. Thank you for the inspiration!


  17. Keeping a journal (any kind) of your work is a great idea! I have handcrafted items that while having been passed down through generations, the only documentation of whom made what has been verbal. Borrowing from your idea, I’ll be documenting what I know about these items (mostly linens) for future generations.


  18. I have “handmade by” labels that I ordered. People love them. Since I’ve started blogging, I’m more apt to document my projects, tell what the yarn is, the pattern, etc. Before that, I had ideas of keeping journals but never have. Lovely post, thanks!


  19. You could make a photograhic book – either an album from any number of photo processing people or a self-publisher like Blurb. I’d imagine that if you wanted labels doing that the problem is that an order is usually of all the _same_ label (whether print or textile). Or you could try Mini Moo Cards. They let you do each one differently. My skills are minimal but I always try and photograph all my finished knitted projects, I like the reminder of what I’ve done. I can always use it as a reference for another project later too. 🙂


  20. tgonzales says:


    I have my lables custom made and they are wonderful. I sew in my labels to everything that I crochet or make. I order my labels from Worldwide labels and you can have your logo or anything printed on them. I have to confess that they aren’t cheap but I do love having my name on each piece that I create. I just wish that I was more organized with keeping track of all the little details of each project; as my labels only have my name on them.

    I love reading your blog and thanks for writing about such interesting things.



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