All of us have memories that are close to our hearts, but they can slip through and fade away with the passage of time. At such times, what is the one thing that keeps such memories alive? Heirlooms!
Family heirlooms connect generations in a deep, personal way that can only be best experienced. These heirlooms come with so many anecdotes and a lot of nostalgia that is passed down from one generation to the other, thus making them timeless. At times, the family heirloom is not as worth as the story that goes along with it. These stories and experiences keep the family history alive and develop a sense of understanding while establishing lasting family traditions. Family heirlooms come in various forms, ranging from pieces of jewelry (bangles, necklaces, and anklets), family recipes, special crockery and cutlery used for special occasions, to napkins, bedsheets, quilts and sarees embroidered with love. While these utility items are passed on from generation to generation, what also gets passed on are stories and incidents that make these items even more special.
The pandemic has certainly brought about a wave of people going back to their traditional heirlooms that have been a part of their houses since generations. Whether it is the old shawl used by the grandfather, or the bangles and necklaces and similar pieces of jewellery which have been passed from generation to generation. These pieces are antique and an attempt to reconnect to people’s past.
The significance of a family heirloom is when it has intangible values such as memories, regard, pride, legacy, tradition and family heritage attached to it. Family heirloom pieces can begin from people’s wardrobes to the kitchen to any part of the house. From jewellery pieces that can be reinvented with small changes made to the original look, to preserving hand-written letters and notes, to unique items that are collected such as coins, stamps, records etc., all these have a story to tell. Families are known to hold on to their vintage baby clothes so that they can dress up their future generations in those outfits. Handmade clothing like special blankets and quilts are another timeless wonder.
Families have had pieces of jewellery which have been there in the family for more than 100 years. Originally worn by the grandmother-in-law, it was then passed on to the daughter-in-law of the house, who then gifted it to her daughter-in-law. It is indeed a matter of absolute privilege and honor, to be the owner of a unique piece of heirloom which has tremendous value. These family heirlooms are enriched with family tradition and carry a legacy and story that represent the wisdom and blessings of our elders. Almost every woman in India has an heirloom that she attaches deep meaning to. This sentiment is also echoed by today’s millennial brides who are consciously choosing family heirlooms to be a part of their wedding trousseau. So, whether it is the traditional jewellery pieces or the family Benarasi sarees, all these are statements that represent a well-knitted family.
Artika from TaBa Kashi recounts that, “these are small items that have a memory associated with it, which make it priceless.” As she gets ready to tie the knot next week, she will be carrying along some of her family heirlooms such as her mother’s ‘sindur ki dibbi’ (small box carrying vermillion, used by married women to indicate that they are married). Though she will not use it, she has many childhood memories associated with it, which she wishes to carry with her as she moves from one city to another, post marriage. A few other family heirlooms include their traditional mangodi (dehydrated balls made from gram flour) recipe which she has learnt from her grandmother, an old bookstand, some knitted napkins and bedsheets made by her grandmother or mother. Old Benarasi sarees with sacchi zari (real gold or silver designs or motif work) are another highlight of her wedding trousseau. These age-old ensembles have been passed down to be preserved as keepsakes. Their vintage charm and treasured memories make them all the more special for Artika.
These family heirloom pieces defy the misconception that an object is a piece of art only when it has significant value on the market to qualify for professional care. This is not the case with family heirlooms that have sentimental value and meaning for individuals.
But preservation of these family heirlooms is equally important.
Here are a few tips to stop the decay of family heirlooms:
- Store in a decorative material like a display in a glass case or wrapping in cotton cloth. ● Avoid keeping silver with woollen or silk as they cause formation of a dark tarnish on the metal’s surface.
- The risk to a saree is in its folds where they have a tendency to wear off and disintegrate. Instead of folding it, fill a stocking with soft polyfill and fold the textile around it so that creases do not form.
- Paper documents, letters and books need to be wrapped in starch-free clean cotton cloth.
- Paintings have to be kept away from the sunlight and not directly under air conditioners.
Heirloom pieces are symbols of love and accomplishment. A hand-embroidered saree which was passed on to the daughters of the house, can get upcycled and worn as a token of remembrance and blessings from people who have passed away. These need to be preserved with love to be handed over to the future generations.