29-Station Break: Cassone, il coredo and biancheria

The bride prepares for her new home

As in previous centuries, the love for fine linen tablecloths and bed sheets embroidered or trimmed with lace continues in Italy. This youtube video provides a good overview of the range of modern biancheria (embroidered sheets, pillowcases and bed spreads) available for the bedroom.

While Nicola Muro was away in the United States during the early 1900s, Letizia Scotti was making preparations for their marriage. At the turn of the 20th century women throughout all of Italy prepared a chest filled with a beautiful array of linens and lacework pieces to be used in their new household.  Most of the pieces were made by the future bride.  Others were purchased or received as gifts.

Letizia’s daughter Josie was my beloved maternal Grandmother. She gave me a lace tablecloth that Uncle Sammy and I think dates back to the 1930s.  Josie had an appreciation and preference for these kinds of things all her life.  Such sensibility comes from living in a home where simple beauties like these are part of everyday life.  Letizia’s sisters outlived her and were known as excellent homemakers. Not just for cooking and cleaning but for creating a sense of home as a place of beauty. In the kind of home Josie created, and such keepsakes as this lace tablecloth, we find a link to Letizia and the matriarchs who came before her. We can envision the kinds of hope chest and linens Letizia brought to her marriage.

The Lace Tablecloth

Grandma Josie’s lace tablecloth.

 Grandma Josie gave me this lace tablecloth when I began discussing with her my plans to decorate an apartment of my own one day. This was in the spring of 1983.

“What are you waiting for?” she asked. “You should decorate your room right now!”

She went into her room. When she came back Grandma Josie handed me a box that was very yellow and old.

I took the lid off the box, unwrapped layers of tissue paper and carefully took out the exquisite lace table cloth shown in this photo. My Mom remembered seeing the tablecloth only a few times.  Many first generation Italian immigrants had special table cloths, doilies and bed linens that would come out only on holidays or when relatives came to for an extended visit.

Close-up of the lace table cloth.

On subsequent visits to Grandma Josie’s house she told me how she had learned embroidery and sewing as a child because these skills were part of what a woman brought to the marriage. The works of her hands would beautify her home with lace doilies, embroidered tablecloths and even guest towels made of linen with a crocheted border.

Grandma Josie rarely spoke of her mother Letizia because she died quite young. The story of her passing varied depending on who I heard it from.  She was the kind of person who was very open.  There were a few questions my Mother told me never to ask and those concerned Letizia.  The subject was a painful one for my Grandmother.  This is why I accepted this gift without asking any questions since she gave it to me so purposefully and without any further comment.

With these thoughts in mind, I spent several evenings researching what the preparations for marriage were in an effort to draw closer to Letizia as a young woman. What follows are my notes taken during reading various online sources.

In my readings I learned that families also bought items to add to the Coredo (dowry). Uncle Sammy and I wonder if this lace tablecloth is older than the 1930s and if, perhaps, it was an item in Josie’s own hope chest.  If any reader knows how this tablecloth can be dated please post in the comments.  My Uncle and I do not know how old it is or what type of lace work it is.

The Hope Chest

–A Hope Chest was called a cassone in Italian.  The plural is cassoni.

–They came into use starting in the 15-16th century in Italy.

–At first the cassone was considered a status symbol.  Only the members of royalty and the upper classes could afford them.

Cassoni were richly carved and painted.  They usually were placed at the foot of the bride’s bed.  Some cassoni also had a back and foot rest.  These types were called cassapanca which means a chest-bench.  They had a dual functionality as storage chest and bench.

–Even brides who were not in the upper classes prepared a hope chest in anticipation of marriage. Often these chests were smaller than the more elaborate cassoni and were unadorned.

–By the 18th century the cassone was declining in importance and became much less ornamental.  By the 1950s their usage was no longer commonplace in Italy.

Coredo (Trousseau) and Biancheria (linens, bedspreads, tablecloths, nightclothes)

–Before WWII the trousseau consisted of many embroidered pieces: sheets, pillow coverings, table linens all done in white embroidery or lace or crochet work.  This work was known as biancheria.

–Preparation of a girl’s biancheria began after birth. Her mother may have prepared some pieces but as soon as she was capable, the girl learned how to embroider and sew.

–The wealthy could pay an embroiderer to do the work.

–Embroidery patterns were handed down in some families. Other families combined modern patterns into the making of the corredo.

–Many girls learned embroidery from the nuns.

–Some ornate bedspreads took up to 5 years to make.

–Even if a girl was not being courted she created her biancheria as a sign that she was prepared and capable of bringing a wealth of items to the new home.

–The tradition continues today with some mothers creating coredo for their sons and daughters.

–In the current time, not every new member to the family likes or appreciates the gifts created by their future in-laws. As a result in some families the size of the coredo is being reduced and cash being put aside as a gift for the wedding instead.

The bride keeps her surname

We have noticed that on all the ship passenger lists, the married women kept their maiden name. This became evident to us when we first reviewed the ship’s passenger list on which Rosa Scotti, wife of Gennaro Serrapede, is listed along with her children for a trip they made to New York in 1897.  The children had their father’s name but Rosa used her maiden name.  The same holds true for when Letizia came to the United States after her marriage to Nicola Muro.

On this topic we’ve learned the following:

–Even today Italian courts only permit name changes for reasons of security or if the name is similar to a word with a negative meaning.

–A person must use their full name, including middle name, and surname.

–Women do not take their husband’s name after marriage.

–Children born to a married couple receive their father’s surname.

–If born out of wedlock the father must file a court document acknowledging the child.

–A child can also use the mother’s surname even when the couple is married as a result of a 2014 law passed in Italy.

–After marriage a bride has the choice of adding her husband’s surname after her own or retaining her surname.

–The tradition of the children receiving their father’s surname derives from Christianity and the role of a father as protector of his children. The father walking his daughter down the aisle symbolizes the transfer of the responsibility to protect her to the groom.

Discussion with Uncle Sammy on Sunday, June 21, 2015, 11:00 – 11:45 a.m.

*We do not remember the mothers of our friends embroidering, crocheting or sewing.

*The skills needed to create the exquisite biancheria photographed by Wanda Balzano (see Recommended Reading for the link to photos and essay) were not transmitted from the first generation of immigrant women from Italy. Their daughters were second generation Americans who went further with their education and very often worked prior to marriage.

*During the 1940s through the 1960s any gifts of embroidered tablecloths, sheets or pillowcases were gifts from mothers and grandmothers born in Italy who came to Americca after their marriages.

*Many gifts of crocheted doilies were also made by the older generations. These pieces were very intricately worked using medium weight cotton thread.  Often they were circular and were used on dining room tables as a centerpiece when the table was not in use.  A white fruit dish with a pedestal bottom or a crystal vase was often placed on top to create a simple but elegant effect.

We did not know of any relatives or paesanas who made lace. Any lacework that was passed down in the family was most likely purchased and given as a gift to the bride.

Acknowledgments

The lineage of our branches of the Scotti and Muro families may be reviewed at ImaginesMaiorum-Ancestors from Campania. This website presents the results of Anthony Vermandois’ work for families in Agropoli and nearby towns.

Scotti: http://www.imaginesmaiorum.net/surname.cfm?id=229

Muro: http://www.imaginesmaiorum.net/surname.cfm?id=368

Relationship Notes

Letizia was the daughter of Carmine and Maria Giovanna (nee di Giaimo) Scotti

Nicola (Nick) was the son of Pietro and Giuseppa (nee Ruocco) Muro

Nicola and Letizia were:

–Sammy’s maternal grandparents

–EmilyAnn’s great-grandparents through her maternal line

Josie was the daughter of Nicola and Letizia (nee Scotti) Muro. She married Sabato Serrapede in 1930.  Josie was:

–Sammy’s Mother

–EmilyAnn’s maternal Grandmother

 

Resource

Biancheria per la casa: camera da letto “Wedding List”

(Linens for the house: bedroom “wedding list”)

YouTube Video

URL: https://youtu.be/EuOqVAFzDPY

Recommended Reading

Downloadable PDF file

“Biancheria in the Shadow of Vesuvius”

–Wanda Balzano’s trip to her hometown in Naples vividly describes her memories about laundry day, bridal trousseaus and everyday life during the times of her own childhood and the times of her grandmother. Includes many photos of biancheria.

http://www.brunel.ac.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/187179/ET73BalzanoED.pdf

Resources

Hope Chest

Cassone

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cassone

Hope Chest

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hope_chest

Italian Hope Chests-Cassone

http://italian-needlework.blogspot.com/2011/10/italian-hope-chests-cassone.html

Biancheria and Coredo

A Crochet Bedspread in my Italian Trunk – Il Copriletto all’uncinetto nel mio Baule

Blog: La Casa e Il Giardino

September 11, 2010

http://casa-giardino.blogspot.com/2010/09/crochet-bedspread-in-my-italian-trunk.html

 

Getting Married in Italy – Il Corredo

Mignon Potenza

August 8, 2011

http://mignonpotenza.com/il-corredo/

 

The bride keeps her surname

“Italian Children Allowed to Carry Mother’s Surname”

Blog: International Business Times

by Ludovica Iaccino

January 9, 2014http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/italian-children-allowed-carry-mothers-surname-1431708

Married and Maiden Names

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Married_and_maiden_names

Name change after a wedding in Italy

Blog: Effeti Wedding Planners in Italy

Posted by Francesca Vinci on Mar 6, 2013

Name Change After a Wedding in Italy

Who to Be or Not to Be?

Blog: About Style

Not Every Bride Around the World Adopts Her Husband’s Surname

by Nicole Kidder

http://weddingtraditions.about.com/od/ModernizingTraditions/a/Who-To-Be-Or-Not-To-Be.htm

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9 thoughts on “29-Station Break: Cassone, il coredo and biancheria

  1. I have searched my needlework books and whilst there are plenty of examples of lace, nothing is quite the same. I thought Venetian lace was maybe most like but I’m no expert.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Carol! We don’t know if Letizia made this or Josie bought it. It’s a complete mystery! But I do appreciate your enjoyment. I’m going to look up lace in my Weldon’s encyclopedia of needlework. If I find anything I’ll post.

      Like

    • Thank you, Carol! We don’t know if Letizia made this or Josie bought it. It’s a complete mystery! But I do appreciate your enjoyment. I’m going to look up lace in my Weldon’s encyclopedia of needlework. If I find anything I’ll post.

      Like

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