Eight mannequins beautifully outfitted with traditional Latvian costumes fill half of Edite Mogensen’s sunny Sarnia living room.
The weaving, the beading and the needlepoint represent half a lifetime of painstaking work by a woman honouring her heritage with each stitch.
“See the patterns on this belt?” she asks, holding up a brightly-coloured sash. “They tell a story.”
The belt, a small part of a costume featuring a woven linen blouse and headdress, was especially challenging.
“It was so difficult. I’d get tired of it and would have to put it away, then pull it out later,” says Mogensen.
It took more than a year to complete.
She learned how to embroider from her mother and godmother as a child growing up in Latvia prior to the Second World War.
She remembers them as happy times, when she could vacation at her grandfather’s farm and participate in her mother’s embroidery club at a cottage the family rented near Riga, the capital city and her birthplace.
That secure world abruptly changed in 1940 when the Soviets invaded Latvia. She was 12.
Four years later she fled with her mother and siblings to Denmark, followed by her father shortly after.
In 1951 her parents immigrated to Canada.
“They felt we’d have a better life,” she said.
Mogensen married a Danish chemical engineer, Hans, and eventually moved with him to Sarnia where he got a job with Imperial Oil.
All the while, she took great pleasure in her needlework. As she settled into Sarnia life and the couple raised two daughters, Mogensen used her spare time to make everything from tablecloths to blankets in the tradition of her Latvian roots.
She began an embroidery club in her backyard for neighbourhood children and their moms. She taught herself how to weave and joined guilds in Toronto and Sarnia.
And she began recreating traditional costumes from the regions of her homeland, using natural and bleached linens she made herself.
“This is my Latvian heritage and I’m proud of it,” she said. “It would take me months and months to weave a skirt.
“You weave and weave and get only that much done,” she said, holding her fingers just inches apart.
Thread by thread, she finished eight costumes over the course of 30 years. She taught piano during those busy child-raising years, but always found time to go to her looms or pick up some embroidery.
“This is my haven,” said Mogensen, walking down to the basement and her three looms. The largest is 100 inches and requires two people to operate.
“It’s so easy to learn and it’s fun,” she said. “When I need a little time to myself, this is where I come.”
This fall, Mogensen decided to assemble all her years of handiwork, and a friend borrowed some mannequins.
“I am so happy to see it all like this,” Mogensen said.
At least 30 members of the Sarnia Handweavers and Spinners Guild, and the local Danish Sisterhood have been around to see and admire the intricate textiles.
“I still do lots of weaving but there will be no more costumes,” said Mogensen. “I’m 84. It’s time to downsize.”
Do you have a feature idea that reflects the cultural fabric of our community? Contact Cathy Dobson at [email protected] or 226-932-0985.