Have Your Say

18th August 2023

Our Legacies Part 2

The legacies continue! Last week we shared some of the responses we received to All Stitched Up! issue #387 regarding our needlework stories. We’ve got a few more to bring you this week, with an undeniable passion for thread running through them all.

Born to work with fibres of all kinds, Janet believes she received the ‘arts’ gene in her family…  ‘My maternal grandmother quilted, crocheted and repaired runs in nylon stockings (ok, yes, I am dating myself – I wore stockings & she fixed them).

My paternal grandmother was an embroiderer. My mother did all of it – she quilted, knitted, crocheted, sewed all my sister’s and my clothes, taught tailoring and alterations, had a business doing alterations, wrote a self-published alteration book and was a partner in a business designing a basic pattern for altering before cutting clothes out. My sister did not get the gene, but I did.

I find it very difficult to find patterns I do not like.

As to leaving things to my son, daughter-in-law and two grandchildren – they will have more than they know what to do with. While I have given many of my pieces away, I still have a whole lot of all my fiber arts. I started doing embroidery for my quilts (crazy quilting and Crabapple Hill patterns and others), thinking I would combine two loves, but then I look at the All Stitched Up! newsletter or magazine and oh, my, here we go again…’

Next, Lindsey shares with us her story which dates back three generations and includes the effects of historical events: ‘My paternal great grandmother was descended from a French Huguenot who arrived in London in 1760, apparently hidden away in a barrel to escape persecution. 

A weaver by trade I like to think that maybe there is a ‘handmade’ gene. My paternal grandmother was a cutter during the depression. A highly skilled job that entailed cutting the fabric to the pattern which was then made into clothes. She was a highly skilled needle woman in her own right.

My mum was a silk ribbon weaver skilled with silk thread. Able to unknot the finest thread and able to join a new spool without any knot!

During WWII the looms were replaced with lathes, and she made shells instead of ribbon and endured the Blitz in London. Weaving became knitting and in later life she knitted Thomas the Tank Engine jumpers for her grandsons, Aran jumpers for everyone and finally knitted the most exquisite baby shawls.

I have dabbled with weaving, lace making, spinning and knitting and have finally returned to embroidery in my 70s. I am inspired by my Huguenot ancestor and the women in my family who have used their hands to make beautiful things.’

Turning 86 last month, Margaret wrote a wonderful passage describing her childhood and her first knitting attempt: ‘I grew up in the mountains of Colorado with an altitude of around 5,280ft. My father built our home, from cutting the logs to finished product with our own ski hill, and it included a rope tow. I went to grade school in Grand Lake where skiing was a ‘class’ we could refuse to learn but, the alternative was the dreaded Math. So, of course, everyone learned to ski.

I had no sweaters, only two long-sleeved shirts and a wool coat. I don’t believe that parkas had been invented yet. I found a pattern book that showed a neat looking sweater and I decided to make my own. My parents bought me the woollen yarn and knitting needles. Thinking back, I cannot imagine how I thought I could make a sweater, but I did, I taught myself to knit.

I don’t remember having any but one problem. It’s the same problem I have today and have to think about every time I knit. When I put something together, I put it together for life.

The seams on my sweater were so tight I could ‘just’ just put it on. I had to rip all the seams and put it together again – it was still too tight, but I could wear it. And as I said before, I still have to stop and tell myself to not make seams tight, they need to be loose enough to match the looseness of the knitted pieces. But looking at our ski hill now — well the sight of it is about half or less than half the size I remember it being but, the memory…’

Our next legacy story is from Judy who is sure her inspiration for sewing and needlework came from her mum:My mother made all my beautiful clothes when I was growing up. She had an old treadle sewing machine that my Dad eventually converted to electricity! We would look at the Seventeen Magazine and make those beautiful dresses that were illustrated across so many pages. Everybody thought my dresses were beautiful! And they really were. That, I am sure, started my love for sewing and needlework.

Mum would also crochet simple rugs from scraps – using a crochet hook my Dad had carved out of ‘black palm’ – a tropical plant found in the jungles of Panama (we lived in the Panama Canal Zone in those years). When I got older and moved to America, I learned to crochet and knit.

When I grew up and married, my husband was a salesperson for sewing machines, so I sewed quite a bit myself – but I could never have come close to my mum’s beautiful creations!

Now, at the age of 80 these activities still interest me. Quilting is the art I have been most interested in. Being elderly, I enjoy making lovely items for our home. It is indeed a real joy to see some of the items I have made around our house.’ 

Our final contribution comes from Carol who started knitting at the age of five and would go on to make ‘pleated skirts’ for her dolls, thumbless mittens for her newborn cousins, and even neck scarves for aunts:

‘No one in my family thought it unusual for a 5-year-old to do this. I loved it and am still knitting daily at 81.

I learned to hand sew from my bedridden grandmother who made coverlets out of pinwheels. My grandfather was a traveling salesman of inexpensive ‘housedresses’ who, therefore, had access to unlimited cotton scraps. We’d cut circles and then do a running stitch to gather them into yoyos, then we’d sew them together into the coverlets. Again, I was five and no one thought this was unusual as I’d sit for hours with her doing this. To this day, I love embroidery and hand sewing.

Finally, at 10 I begged my mother for machine sewing lessons. She talked the Singer Sewing Shop in town to let me in to a summer adult sewing course. To this day, I follow every step I learned there when I start a new sewing project.

I believe my compulsion to sew is in my DNA. My Great Grandfather was one of the founders of the International Ladies Garment Workers Union in New York City.

My great grandmother made all the clothes for her six children. She would walk from the Lower East Side of New York up to the 5th Avenue children’s stores and sketch the clothes in the window to copy. Always a woman of style, at 91 she went shopping with my mother and grandmother for a new dress. When they would hold up an option, she’d say, ‘No, that’s an old lady’s dress’.

In retirement I combined these skills into making wearable art. One of my self-challenges was to design garments that had knitted elements and fabric elements enhanced with embroidery and beads. I was chosen to be the Featured Artist in a local show where I could share enthusiasm and ideas with attendees. I also lectured about these ideas at local handwork guilds. So much fun to see the light bulbs go off and to feel the creative energy spark around the room.’

Thank you so much to everyone who sent in your stories, you have certainly captivated us all with your words. While many of us come from different backgrounds, one thing we each have in common is the desire to continue spreading the joy of stitching.

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