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11th August 2023

Our Legacies Part I

Over the past weeks, we’ve received numerous delightful emails continuing the conversation from All Stitched Up! issue #387. Every story is a small glimpse into the lives of each stitcher and we’re incredibly privileged to share some of these accounts with you today.

Our first story is from Catherine who reflects on the legacy passed on by each generation within her family: ‘My mum passed just a few weeks ago at 89. She taught my two sisters and I how to sew and knit. She has left a huge legacy for us with all the garments she knitted for herself, us and the grandchildren, as well as everything else she made.’

‘When she was at boarding school, they had to put together a sample book of how to do basic mending, sewing machine skills and embroidery. Everything had to be perfect otherwise the nuns made you pull it out. Her mum was a seamstress with the ability to draft any pattern from a picture. Mum could do it as well, but didn’t find it easy.’

‘As for me, yes, I have passed on those skills to my daughters, though they still come back to me for mending because they think I do it better! With mum teaching us these basic skills it gave us the ability to move onto other areas of craft work. It brings a lot of enjoyment, the ability to make something from scratch. Incidentally, mum made at least five of us jackets, cursing us each and every time she got to the decreasing in the shoulders as it was not easy to keep the pattern correct. But each was made with a lot of love.’

Next, Roberta shares where her love of stitching came from:

‘My love of needle, thread and fabrics started when my grandmother taught me to sew for my doll when I was five or six years old – a very long time ago now!

Spending time in bed with tonsillitis and the usual children’s illnesses back in the ‘40s, my mother kept me occupied with her box of embroidery threads, Singer book of embellishments and some muslin printed quilt squares from the Five and Dime store.

As I was growing up, summers spent with my grandmothers gave me time to expand my horizons to dresser scarves until I got frustrated with the fact that they were never printed with the grain of the fabric. That led to a hiatus that lasted until I was married, became a faculty wife and formed an interest group with other wives to learn about embroidery.

Fortunately, one of the women who was our mentor put us on to Danish counted thread embroidery which, needless to say, solved my problem with finished work going off grain!’

‘As our family grew so did my needlework interest until I worked on a teaching certificate with an offshoot of the RSN. A trip to our University’s Art Museum and a poorly restored crewel bed curtain led me to the next phase along with a challenge from my son to put my money where my mouth was and go for a master’s degree in Art Education. Along the way our faculty wives’ group had joined the EGA USA and my exploring of needlework continued. 

I teach and share what I have learned over the years. As far as leaving a legacy, all three of my daughters embroider to some extent given other responsibilities that they have. I have also made stitched or embroidered gifts for 13 granddaughters. I hope to encourage their curiosity for ‘How did Grandmother do that’ with a stash of patterns, books and materials that will someday be theirs.’

Margo wrote in to share with us how her needlework journey also started with her grandmother:

‘I learned the very basics of knitting from my paternal grandmother when I was four years old. She was a most patient teacher, and it started a lifetime of knitting, and I am still learning. My interest in embroidery and sewing began about the age of nine, when I attended a one-teacher school in Far North Queensland, Australia in the 1950s. The wife of our teacher took an embroidery class once a week on a Friday afternoon. We started out with a sampler which began with tacking and running stitches and gradually progressed to not only decorative stitches but also different seams, hemming and buttonholes. 

She taught us to sew on different kinds of fasteners, and buttons. 

This also stood me in good stead when, as a teenager, I started to make my own clothes, which I would decorate with my then favourite stitch, lazy daisy.

In my 60s I also learned spinning and weaving from a very active group that I joined when I moved to rural Victoria. The variety of textile arts skills within this group is very broad, and we all have a hand in teaching newcomers. There will always be someone in this group who will have the necessary skills to help newcomers of any age. Many of the group have grandchildren who also attend regularly.

Now in my 80s, I count myself very lucky to be in good health and fairly active, even if my old hands get a bit stiff from time to time. I have no intention of retiring from crafting and will do my best to keep doing so until I am pushing up daisies… embroidered in stitch of course!’

Our final story for this week is from Harriet who has never shied away from taking on a challenge:

At a very young age my first needlework was a small cross stitch cottage. My mother then tried to teach me to crochet but I just wanted to play sport. She did, however, teach me to sew later on.

Then I got married and had a son. While waiting for him to arrive, I embroidered my first quilt squares for a baby quilt. Then to my surprise I taught myself to crochet. I made an Afghan and entered it in the State Fair. I actually won second place! My mother was so surprised because I never told her I was making it!

For my son’s wedding, I made him a Baltimore Album quilt – seems I like to test my abilities by big challenges! It turned out lovely. It was a block of the month quilt which helped the project to not be so overwhelming. 

While making this quilt a friend taught me to knit. Socks were the first thing I made. There’s that challenge again. Then I taught myself to knit lace shawls, and what lovely things they are.

Intertwined in all of this is my love for embroidery. I have made endless crewel embroidered pillows and even a purse and eyeglass case.

Then came the small, crocheted squares of silk yarn for my first grandchild, a sweet girl. Then the embroidered dresses for her came next.  Each Easter and Christmas she got a handmade dress.

Later in life I made quilts for all the children and grandchildren. I am presently doing a counted cross stitch checkerboard. Each stitched square is in a quilt square design. At almost 80 I am still making things with my needles no matter what shape or size they may be.’

It is such an honour to receive and share these wonderful narratives and we hope they may have some similarities to your own legacy stories or prompt some enjoyable reflection. We have a few more stories to share, so stay tuned for Part II in next week’s issue of All Stitched Up!

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