Shirt #22 | The story behind the strawberry print

I walk around the market with my mother. And I ask her:

“mama, are we going to look for a strawberry print?”

At the fabric stand no fabric with strawberries on it. The man from the stall is showing a fabric with cherries. My mother points to it. I shake my head vigorously and shout:

“I want strawberries, mama!”

For years I nagged my mother about that fabric. This is how it came: the moment we moved to the Netherlands, I was about four years old and I remember how annoying it was. That in addition to all the other things that were given away, I had to leave my favorite dress behind . My niece would get it. It was made by my mother from a fabric printed with strawberries. Actually I didn’t want to leave the dress, but my mother insisted and then said:

“I’ll make a new one for you in Holland. They probably have nicer fabrics with strawberries there. ”

She would never find that print again. I was quite disappointed about that as a child.

This is one of the first memories of my grandmother Michelina. Or that’s how it has been told by my mum. My mum has continued the search for the fabric. For years and she wouldn’t find a print with strawberries on the market. As if she couldn’t quite believe this was so hard to come by.

Perfect fabric

The perfect fabric (this is what I think my mum thinks) with strawberries is a fabric of 100% cotton, nothing synthetic in it. Imagine the danger near a candle or cigarette. Not suitable for a child.

And I remember that she and her friend could also talk for years about the perfect fabric with or without strawberries with a cup of coffee and a cigarette in their hands. Her friend was more into the polkadot en stripes though. My mother says till this day she never succeeded in finding the perfect strawberry fabric. 

Who should have taught her?

My grandmother was sorry she couldn’t make clothes herself, my mum said. Who should have taught her? And where should she have gotten the time herself? Her mum left her already at a young age. And she took care of her little brother and sisters.

And my mother told me after sharing this story she especially felt sorry for Grandma Michelina that she couldn’t sew clothes herself, while her mother was very good at it. After leaving Italy, during her years in the Netherlands the first years her mum, my great grandmother continued making the children’s clothing herself. Which was priceless especially during the crisis in years ahead. 

My great grandmother and my grandmother Michelina. This picture was taken back in Italy.

Trousseau with embroidery

My mother has always kept a sampler of my grandma Michelina. It’s a piece of cotton that girls used to learn to embroider at school, so that they could later decorate their trousseau with embroidery. 

My mum also used to make a lot of clothes herself, did regular repair work for others and in recent years she has taken up knitting work. At one point, everyone around her was wearing a knitted scarf or stole. 

Well I can’t make clothes myself, but I like to embroider and sometimes decorate clothes with it. I myself live around the corner from the cloth market in Utrecht. With stalls full of piles of all kinds of fabrics. Would I still be able to find a print with strawberries? How nice would it be if my mum made a dress with strawberries on it for my daughter?

PHOTO 2: I knew I wanted to make some changes by some improvisation. My first reaction: the strawberry almost looks like a uterus in the womb. For me a representation of a sacred place.

PHOTO 3 : The womb is an entrance through our universe. A place of creation. Where we are connected with our mother and great great great grandmothers. I call this realization the Matroesjka-effect. While making this I meditate on what the womb story wants to teach me.

PHOTO 4: Suddenly it becomes tangible again, in the form of a patch. Thankful for the lessons from my own ancestor line and for my journey.


About Nineke & Ninekdote

Nineke Verhoofstad (Utrecht, 1985): I live in my own world of words and share this with others through my ‘Ninekdotes’. I also surround myself with things that are valuable to me: vintage finds or family heirlooms, which I like to give my own twist.

You can read more about here!

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