In March, my family gathered to celebrate my grandmother's 90th birthday. In one of her many boxes full of collected stuff -- hotel soaps and shampoos were by far the most common item found in decorated tins -- my sister found spools of thread. Lilac and dark purple, mauve and gray, neutral white and useful black, baby blue and aqua. Plus a dark green loner and a single spool of mustardy yellow. As my grandmother was dispersing quite a few items from her apartment, I asked if I could have the thread. "No," she retorted, "I might need it." It wasn't clear to any of us present when or how she might use the thread, for she gave me her sewing machine (the only one I have, which I use regularly) over 5 years ago and she wasn't actively sewing anymore. But I said, "ok, enjoy the thread," and left it at that. She wanted to keep the thread and I respected that; regardless of whether she was actively using it, it obviously comforted her to have a full complement of colors nearby.
The wooden box of colorful semi-tangled thread now resides with me. Lodged amidst two dozen books I needed to read, it traveled back with me by plane on Sunday. Grandma died a little over a week ago, on August 10, five months after she celebrated 90 full years of life. Her death was both sudden and unexpected; two weeks ago she suffered a massive cerebral hemorrhage, at which point the end loomed near. But like the stubborn woman she was throughout her life, she didn't let go easily.
My grandmother did not, shall we say, prize the domestic arts. She grew up in a family of means in Germany and learned book-keeping and pursued various athletic activities with her father. She was a terrible cook, having abandoned the home ec classes her parents sent her to a Swiss finishing school to learn in favor of becoming fluent in French. Forced to cook when she escaped Nazi Germany on a domestic service visa to England, she relied on a cookbook and my grandfather who was far more proficient at food preparation. No offense to Britons, but I don't think cooking skills learned on the fly in wartime England yield particularly exemplary kitchen talents. She did, however, love sweets, and her baking far outpaced her cooking. I don't know when or where she learned to knit, but it was the only "typical" domestic activity I encountered her doing with joy. We all received blankets and sweaters, often monogrammed, in her signature style -- which may well have a name, but being unfamiliar with knitting ways, I can't elaborate effectively.
Perhaps it's because of the knitting that she had so many buttons. I can't really account for the thread or the trim which I never saw her use. But as someone who fled her home with only a couple of dollars, Grandma saved everything. Hence the array of buttons, snaps, and trim we found in the boxes in her apartment. I also found some some vintage -- though I don't think she would have categorized them as such! -- sheets, including both 60s florals and old linen with lace edges.
While my grandmother didn't teach me to sew and I never sewed with her, it struck me yesterday that one of my most material connections to her is through her sewing. She gave me my sewing machine -- which she bought but never appeared to use -- and I now have a stack of material and notions from her. I also brought back this stack of handkerchiefs, some of which have her name or her mother's name embroidered on them. Aside from washing them, I'm not sure exactly what I'll do with them, but I'd like to make something with them. There aren't enough for a quilt by themselves, and I'm not sure how well they'll work with other cotton. I think I'll probably need to interface them to be able to sew them as some are quite delicate. Except for the yellow one peeking out above, the rest are white, some plain and some embroidered. I'd like to make something that will be used, perhaps a challah cover (or several). If you have any ideas, I'd love to hear your suggestions.
Thanks for stopping by. I indulge in crafts and (vegetarian) cooking as often as I can, and I use this blog to share my work. If you're not sure about the terms I use or if you have questions, please ask. I love seeing your comments and try to respond, either by email or in the comments section. I am currently taking commissions; please email me for more information: 2hippos [at] gmail [dot] com.