The Making of Heirlooms: Finding an Embroidered Clock

What makes an heirloom? How do ordinary people craft them? And a dive into kits and designs of embroidered clocks.

Street finds are one of the marvels of city life. Over the years, I’ve walked by small treasures and garden variety gifts to the passers-by, from a rare flora to appliances of all stripes. Street finds make inhabitants lives visible, pointing to who moves out, declutters, outgrows.

Then once in a while, there’s the family heirlooms. Walking up Page street towards Upper Haight, I found under a tree a clock boasting a hand-embroidered panel marking the 1988 wedding of the Joyces. I stopped because, while there’s a rich history of embroidered caskets and furniture, I couldn’t remember examples of clocks and well, I wondered how it ended up on the streets.

The panel underneath the face is cross-stitched and was glued on cardboard, before being fitted inside a wood cabinet with a glass front. The cabinet was made by Alpha Omega Woodcraft from Cayucas, California. The clock face and mechanism are fairly unremarkable. A piece of brown paper that used to hide the back of the embroidery reads “To Rob & Diane, A labor of love for you on your wedding day! Love, Mary T. Rick & Jennifer, 12-88”. As for the layout of the clock itself is similar to 19th century wall clocks, which featured an illustrated panel underneath the dial, hiding the pendulum. The embroidery itself is fairly unremarkable: the patterns are simple and consensual representations of a marriage, a home, hearts flowers, and framing elements. Bless this Home is a commonly used sentence in domestic cross-stitched items in the United States. The clock draws on an aesthetic repertoire aiming to convey traditional, valuable, craftmanship.

Weddings invite embroidery as a literal labor of love. Embroidered trousseaus for instance had a practical value but also aimed at demonstrating the ethos of the bride and her family. It makes objects of the everyday into heirlooms, made to last and meant to be passed on, traces of our intimacies. Were embroidered clocks a thing in the 1980s? Who made them and why? I tried finding out.

First stop: a generic search query for embroidered clocks. It yielded a couple results, primarily on Etsy. The face of the clock was usually the focus of embroidery. Items sold include clock faces dated between 1960 and 1980 and clock kits mostly dated from the 1970s. Stylistically, they are more complex, and the numbers are embroidered.

Sunset Designs (which held a significant share of the cross-stitck kits market) produced at least one clock kit by Connie Blyler, meant to be framed. Needle Magic Inc. (PA) produced a series called stitch’n’time that included both embroidery materials, pattern, the clock mechanism and a frame. These latter examples are similar to contemporary kits, shown below.

I couldn’t find much in terms of museums or antique dealers examples of embroidered timekeeping pieces. This likely reflects this never developed further than everyday crafts, and was probably much harder to achieve prior to cheap clock mechanisms. Some examples predate those kits included a central panel pressed underneath a cutout in the dial.

So this seems like a relatively isolated object, which I am guessing is also why it was discarded. I don’t think it reflects the end of a marriage. Rather I suspect the craft is banal enough to doesn’t justify safekeeping past the relationship it represents: that of the family with the embroiderer. While clocks were necessary in the 1980s, we’re now all carrying time in our pockets. It still had a remarkably long life within our consumerist culture: thirty-five years! And while it may not have become a family heirloom, but I brought it to Community Thrift Store on Valencia Street and it left the shelves within a week of its arrival, for a home appreciating its quirkyness. Farewell!

Citer ce billet
Emeline Brulé (2023, 6 août). The Making of Heirlooms: Finding an Embroidered Clock. Design and Society. Consulté le 28 mai 2024, à l’adresse

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