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Danish handwork tradition kindles interest at Linden Ponds

Tove Poock teaches her craft in Lifelong Learning course

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February 25th, 2014
Tove Poock teaches her craft in Lifelong Learning course
Tove Poock teaches her craft in Lifelong Learning

Embroidered floral-motif pillows and wall hangings, albums of carefully crafted and preserved lacework samples, intricate pulled-stitch tablecloths and placemats, and handsome knit sweaters are among the products of Tove Poock’s lifetime of artisanship.

This month, as she celebrates two years living at Linden Ponds, Tove (pronounced “To-va”) will begin teaching a Lifelong Learning course within the community about embroidery and lacework. It will be the first course of its kind to be taught via Lifelong Learning at Linden Ponds, the Erickson Living community in Hingham, Mass.

Family legacy 

As a young girl growing up in Copenhagen, Denmark, Tove was exposed to handcrafts even before beginning school, where skills like sewing and embroidery were taught each week as a traditional and well-respected pastime. 

Tove’s maternal grandmother was a talented artisan, and though she died when Tove’s mother was three years old, her legacy continued. Tove’s grandfather remarried, and the woman Tove came to know as her grandmother taught her stepchildren to knit, knowing they might have their mother’s innate talent. 

Tove’s mother became a professional embroiderer, adept at a technique known as smocking, in which fabric is gathered and stretches into a pattern used to adorn clothing. Tove’s mother created the smocking for the princesses of Denmark. 

By the time Tove turned 6, she knew how to knit. When she finished high school, she wanted to be a math teacher but wasn’t old enough. Instead, she accepted a three-year apprenticeship with the Haandarbejdets Fremme, known in English as the Danish Handcraft Guild.             

The Guild was established to preserve the Danish embroidery traditions and promote innovations. Within it, Tove mastered various techniques, including counted cross stitch, hemstitching, pulled thread work, and appliqué. She also studied bobbin lace making, a craft that involved intricate weaving of thread mounted on a pillow.  

“It isn’t anything you can do in 15 minutes. Lacework can be very time consuming,” she says, pointing to a sample of a lace pattern known as “Little Heart of Denmark.” The sample took about an hour per inch for Tove—a skilled artisan—to create. 

Despite her appreciation for lace making, Tove admits she rarely wears it. “I’m not a lace person myself, but I use it on table linen.”

Teachable skills

Tove went to college following her apprenticeship, but it was her handwork that first brought her to New York in 1963. Tove went to work in a store in Manhattan selling counted cross-stitch embroidery kits based on the designs of Gerda Bengtsson, a Danish artist who designed the wall-hanging of U.S. state flowers for Jackie Kennedy. Patterns for the individual flower designs were advertised in Woman’s Day magazine and gained popularity throughout the country.

When the Danish Handcraft Guild’s New York store closed, Tove found work with the United Nations as a computer programmer, but she later returned to handwork when she and her husband moved to the Catskills to start a family.         

In the Catskills, Tove taught embroidery, lace work, and knitting in workshops and classes of children, college students, and seniors. Tove’s two sons even insisted on learning to knit.

“If people are interested in this, it’s fun to keep [teaching],” she says.

Through the years, Tove says her “overflow” pieces have been sold at craft fairs, including the annual fair at Linden Ponds.

Independent community 

Tove and her husband Ralph first began looking to move to an Erickson Living community from their house in the Catskills in 2008. They liked the Erickson Living concept and hadn’t found any comparable communities in their region.    

“We liked that we could be independent but that we could get help if we needed it,” she says, referring to the continuing care neighborhood at Linden Ponds. 

The Poock’s New York house was located in the ski resort town of Windham, 25 miles from a supermarket and 50 miles from a doctor’s office. Like the town of Windham, Linden Ponds has a library, bank, pharmacy, and barbershop, but Tove was pleased to discover that Linden Ponds also has an on-site medical center and convenience store.

“There were no swimming pools, however,” Tove says. “This is much easier. You don’t have to shovel snow.”

They liked the size of Linden Ponds and its location within close proximity to Logan International Airport in Boston, from which they could make trips to see their sons in Seattle and North Carolina, and to their families overseas.

Before moving, the Poocks visited the community for two overnight stays, during which they decided on a two-bedroom, one-bathroom Fairmont-style apartment home. They went with Linden Ponds-recommended Burkhardt Brothers Moving & Storage for the actual move.  

Shortly after the move, Tove became involved in teaching English as a second language to Linden Ponds employees. She also swims daily, learned a couple of card games, and joined the community’s ping-pong, walking, and Echoes Chimes Choir groups. 

When Tove saw a call for teachers of Linden Ponds’ Lifelong Learning Program, she responded. She noted that most of the courses previously taught were intellectual in nature rather than crafty, but she was told that was not for lack of interest, but for lack of teachers of handcrafts.

Tove plans to introduce embroidery and lace techniques to her spring semester class, encouraging hands-on work on small samples. 

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