In the dictionary, to cover is to place something upon, over, or in front of, so as to protect, shut in, or conceal; to hide or screen from view or knowledge, often used with “up”.
There are fashion cover-ups, like the items one wears over a swimsuit at the pool or beach.
There are sun screens to protect us from sunburns.
First hanging cloth fresh off the loom
And of course, there are scandals and cover-ups meant to conceal truth. But that’s not where I’m going. Lately, I’ve been intrigued by textile cover-ups.
We have long used home textiles to hide what we want to protect or don’t want seen. A tablecloth can protect a good table or cover a scarred table and dress it up for the holidays. Sofa covers protect the good upholstery from pets and wear, and also hide the evidence of said pets and wear. Curtains cover our windows for privacy. Bread towels cover the newly baked loaf for cooling.
The Scandinavians have a couple historical textile traditions that I’ve been enjoying. One are the “hanging cloths.” Prior to the 19th century, in the day of flue-less fireplaces, the walls and ceilings would get sooty. On special occasions, hanging cloths covered up those dirty walls and ceilings, giving the room a fresh look.
According to Lillemor Johansson in Damask and Opphämta, these were white linen or cotton with colored patterns bands. The patterns were woven in opphämta or monks belt on a plain weave ground. In some communities, the patterns were all blue. In other places, the cloth could be red, blue, or a combination of colors. Braided fringes often decorated the ends.
Another historical Scandinavian tradition is the show towel. Towel bars must have had two bars, one closer to the wall than the other, but I’m just guessing on that. The idea was to hang a pretty towel in front to cover the utilitarian towel hung in the back. Family was presumably taught to only use the back towel.
We still have examples of “show towels” in our homes. My mother had special guest towels that only came out when company was coming. And woe to the child who inadvertently used one after coming in from play!
I like the decorative borders and finishes of these old textiles. I don’t have a flue-less fireplace—or any other kind for that matter—but I like the idea of woven wall hangings to dress up a room. Changing them out for the season can give a room a facelift without a major remodel.
Right now, I have a white 8/2 cotton warp on the drawloom for some of those opphämta hanging cloths. The first one is finished and I’m considering patterns and colors for the next one. It is both challenging and satisfying to design at the loom, choosing which border to balance the last, how to use the colors I have on hand to their best advantage. And it’s fun to see the pattern develop with each row.
These are my favorite kinds of cover-ups. What are yours?