The lore on Army Navy cloths is widely varied depending on who you talk to.
What I at one time heard from my former mother-in-law (wife of a 3-star admiral)
has been substantiated by civil war diaries and such. She said the tradition
began in the civil war with actual tea cloths that were sent with the officers
to the field so they could have proper tea whilst awaiting the next battle. The
cloths were made of alternating panels of lace and linen, bits and pieces,
really, because materials were scarce and one didn’t want to send the “real” tea
cloth out to be ruined by a warring regiment. I have seen extremely old pieces
that fit this description but the age and provenance could not be proven.
My mother’s Army Navy cloth was purchased in Japan by my Dad in the late 50’s.
It also is quite extraordinary – heavy linen, handmade lace, embroidery and
elaborate cutwork throughout, but not nearly as amazing as the earlier ones. I
have noted several different levels of quality in this type of cloth.
I have been sad to note that the modern military social customs have lost much
of their gentility and history. When I was a new bride to a Navy officer back
in the late 70’s we still exchanged calling cards and made official “visits” to
each other with white gloves and such….
vintage linen and lace "Army Navy" is a wonderful piece of military custom that
you may remember, as I do, from childhood. My mother's Army Navy cloth
only came out for special company on equally special occasions. I have
since discovered from many others that these pieces were cherished and loved by
them, not only for their beauty but for the memories they bring to mind.
Alternating linen and lace panels are sewn together by hand and the piece is
edged with hand made filet lace. In fact, all the embroidery and all the
lace is also made/sewn by hand! Imagine!
This piece is
exceptionally large...the largest I've seen. It was stored away many years
ago having been cleaned and starched. A bit of age at the edge, shown
below, a small hole in the lace and a one inch lace separation are the only
"flaws" I found. I assure you, your guests will be temporarily speechless
when they walk in the room. Offered as found, in excellent vintage
condition. c. 1960's 70" X 144"