“Heirloom” may mean different things in different contexts.
When I look at my y embroidery collection, pieces I have that were made by my great-grandmother classify as heirloom in my mind – I never knew her, and they are all I have left. But most of them were intended to be used – and much to the horror of some of my friends, I have used them!
My mother was a graphic design major in school. Among my things I have several “kitschy” cocktail napkins that she stenciled, and a few that she hand-stitched. These are heirlooms to me, but probably wouldn’t be to others. They actually haven’t been used since i was a child – cocktail parties aren’t a thing in my group of friends, and I haven’t had a use for them. I’d post photos, but they are living in a storage unit with my piano. Soon I hope to have them home safe. 🙂
When we think of stitching an heirloom today, we often think of an elegant, framed piece for the wall. This is very well and good, but most of us only have so much wall space. I find, personally, that most of the heirlooms I cherish most are the things that weren’t made to be heirlooms – the things that were made to be used.
I cherish the black velvet dress my grandmother made me for Christmas in the 1st grade. I cherish (even as I use them) my great-grandmother’s table toppers, my mother’s napkins. The fisherman knit sweater Mom made herself that disappeared in college. (I took it with me to college after she died. Someone stole it soon after. I hope they were cold and it helped, but I doubt it.)
This has colored my view on heirloom gifts I give. I try to use materials appropriate for the item to be used – washables for tableware, high quality threads for wall art, things children can use and enjoy, knowing they will wear out but still be loved and remembered. I still have that little velvet dress – unfortunately, the rainbow dress from earlier the same year was worn into oblivion, but it still lives in my memory!
MY definition of heirloom?
“A tangible reminder of wonderful memories.”
Use the best and most appropriate materials you can — then send your work off to be loved and used. The pieces that survive truly are the heirlooms.