Treasures from steamer trunks

Spirit Bead's new exhibit includes hand-stitched heirlooms and lace buried in the Revolutionary War for protection from looters

Posted: Friday, May 23, 2003

Five years ago, bead artist Salty Hanes inherited steamer trunks from her mother.

They went into storage because Hanes and her husband, Jim, were remodeling their dream house, a 1901 home on Third Street downtown.

When Hanes started opening the trunks two years ago, she found pieces of lace and remnants of needlework. Some dated back to the early 18th century and had been in her East Coast home when she was growing up. Most of the pieces came from Europe and were handed down through both sides of her family for generations. A few came with handwritten notes, explaining the piece's origin.

Hanes has about 50 pieces of antique lace, bobbin lace, needlework, crochet and embroidery on display at her store, Spirit Beads, 215 Fifth St. "Lace and Needlework Exhibition" runs through June 14. The store is open noon to 5 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday.

Most of the samples are from her family's collection, but a few were donated by friends.

"Many of the things in the trunk were surprises," Hanes said. "Some of them are so delicate that they're ripping apart."

She said some of the items date back to the 1720s.

"There are a few pieces I can't date exactly that are from the British Isles," she said.

Hanes' collection includes tablecloths, shawls, collars, doilies, baby caps and remnants of dresses. The pieces can be traced back to Belgium, Italy, Britain, France and the East Coast of the United States.

One piece of black lace, an example of an early needlepoint technique called "Punto in Aria" or "stitches in air," was buried by Hanes' family during the Revolutionary War to protect it from looters.

A piece of embroidered, bobbin lace edging, about 3 inches wide and one yard long, is filled with delicate flowers and geometrics.

"It could be the edge of a dress. It could be a cuff or the edge of a tablecloth or a shawl," Hanes said. "I'm guessing it's a couple hundred years old. I know it wasn't made in this country."

Juneau resident Lynn Kent donated two collars, stitched with metallic thread. The collars were displayed in New York City in the 1910s; Kent has no indication of when they were made.

The exhibit includes a linen dress worn by Juneau's Norma Johnson in the 1940s and 1950s. The fabric has roughly 150 flowers appliquéd on to gauze. Hanes inherited it when she worked in Juneau as a tailor.

"Anywhere I look in the shop, I feel so moved to see so much work done by so many different woman across so many different cultures and many different generations," Hanes said. "These pieces were honored and handed down through the ages, and that's important."

Korry Keeker can be reached at

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