i’m busy busy with wedding prep (my sister is getting married this weekend!), film petit sewing, family birthday parties, and learning my new job (!), so there’s not much time left to blog at the moment. and when i get super busy in “real life,” you know what that means – i bring home guest posts!
this one is from sew much ado’s flashback friday series, a really enjoyable (and often hilarious) collection of memories from crafty bloggers. my original post went up here. maybe it will help you get in a nostalgic mood, too, because vintage may returns next month!
Late one night, a few months ago, I was sewing, as I often do. Suddenly, I needed a zipper and didn’t have the right size in my stash. As a last ditch effort, I decided to look in the saran-wrapped box of notions that my grandma had left me when she died, but I had never opened. It was then that my sewing stopped for the evening, because what I found wasn’t a zipper, but a time capsule.
My grandma had died in 2010 after living a long and full life. She lost her first husband in WWII and married my grandfather, also a vet, a few years after the War ended. She had five children of her own (including my dad), then decided she wasn’t quite done raising kids, so she adopted one more baby. She was always proud to tell everyone how many grandchildren she had (I lost track around 30). A year or so before her death, she told me the birth story of one of my uncles, where she walked to the grocery store and back in full labor. She was a tough lady, a strong woman. She wasn’t the most cuddly, sweet, always-have-candy type grandma – she was the grandma you learned botanical plant names from, you had memories of feeding the geese with, who told you stories of world travel.
I think women of her era were more self-sufficient. They came of age during the Great Depression, they raised kids while so many of their husbands were at war. They had to know how to cook, sew, knit, crochet, mend, needlepoint, embroider, can and preserve, garden, make more out of less. Skills that a few of us possess today and that many of us are trying to reclaim, they all knew.
My grandma could do it all. In her younger days, I’m told she was a prolific seamstress. In her 70s she took oil painting classes, and in her 80s she passed the time by knitting. She knitted a blanket for every great-grandchild at birth, and Em was one of the last to receive one. It’s a treasure and Em knows how special it is – she refers to it as “great grandma’s blanket.”
I had to sneak this photo in – she happened to be in the hospital with heart trouble the day Em was born. I never met my great grandparents, so I thought it was so cool that Em got to meet hers.
So anyway, when I was looking for that zipper, I opened the three boxes she had left me – her one grandchild who sews – and was stopped in my tracks. I found her coursework from when she took sewing as a teenager. Tucked inside her “Dressmaking Made Easy” book were graded work samples, smocking, buttonholes, stitch finishes…all sewn by hand. I try to sew in a way that’s technically correct, but I’m self-taught. My sewing now is nowhere near the skill level of my grandma at ages 16 and 17.
As I think about it now, I’m guessing she’d likely been sewing since she was a child. Those classes took her to the next level and earned her a degree.
Tucked in with her coursework, there was a photo of her mother, religious cards, and photos of her, as well as the (handmade) pincushions she used, with pins still in them. Her graduation announcement and certificate were there too.
I’m not sure what lesson I learned that night. I mostly felt in awe of her skill and beauty as a 17-year-old. It made me more sure that sewing is in my blood on both sides of the family, as my mom is also a technically skilled and talented sewist. It made me want to learn more, to build my skills and pass them on to my kids, to continue the legacy of sewing in my family. It made me feel proud that my grandma thought I was deserving of her sewing supplies enough to will them to me. I feel a real responsibility to carry on the tradition.
Thanks so much for having me, Abby! This was such a joy.
26 thoughts on “the day i found a time capsule”
I think I commented on this the first time I saw it, but I was compelled to comment again just to let you know how much I love it. I have inherited various notions from two grandmothers, a great grandmother, and more recently a mother-in-law & grandmother-in-law, and I just treasure them so much for the stories they tell (or don’t tell in many cases — there’s a weird and creepy strip of fur — real fur — in my grandmother-in-law’s notions case that I will never understand but can’t bring myself to throw out). Thanks again for the reminder of how special sewing is to our family.
oh thank you for commenting twice! yeah a lot of what she left me i have no idea how to use, even, but it’s neat to have and i might find use for it someday! so neat to have that legacy.
Hip, hip, hooray for VINTAGE MAY! Soooo excited! I think I may have Grandma’s nose and cheeks. 🙂 Such a warm, yet accurate description of her…
i think you do too, now that you mention it! when you smile i see it.
I remember you posting this the first time, too, and love it now just as much as I did then. It is such a great tribute and reflection and it makes me miss my grandmother even more. Family is important.
Congratulations again to L! Can’t wait to see FLOWER GIRL pictures. 🙂
aw thanks, Kim. i miss your Gram too.
I appreciate this post so much!!! I was very close to my grandmother and she was the same sort of woman you describe. Now that I’m full on homemaker and mother, I aspire to all those skills you talk about!
It is really cool to learn those skills – very empowering, eh? Makes you feel so independent, I love not having to buy things because I can make them instead.
You are such a lucky lady, I’ll tell you that much. Your grandma was a very talented woman from the looks of it and getting to have those boxes is such a rare treasure. My grandma who did all of this passed away when I was one, my Grandpa always told me I reminded me of her because I crocheted and sewed and enjoyed all that she did. It is almost like she is living through me even though I didn’t get to spend much time with her.
oh I’m sorry you didn’t get to spend much time with your Grandma, but so neat you’re carrying on her traditions!
What an inspiring post! Your grandma was gorgeous too.
she was, wasn’t she?! that always blew me away – both of my grandmothers looked so beautiful as teens. doubt my grandkids will say the same thing about my flannel shirt photos in the 90s, haha!
I rarely comment on blog posts, but this one I read again and again – mostly because I couldn’t see through my tears. Its the most powerful writing I’ve seen online this year, and reminded me of things I had forgotten about my own ‘grandmother’ – not really my grandmother because I didn’t have a real family. But I believe she was the only person who ever loved me up until the time I met my husband, and from her I learned my love for sewing and knitting. She helped me make little lavender bags with dried lavender from her garden and scraps of old fabrics. She taught me how to crochet granny squares. In fact, all the good things I remember from my childhood were because of my time spent with this lovely lady and her sewing box. Thank you for the bitter sweet memories.
I also cried through my smile. My grandmother was the only one who kept me alive. Not through hugs or encouragement, but with Liverwurst sandwiches on hard rye, and showing me how to mend, crochet, and can preserves.
ohhh thanks so much to you both. that’s amazing for me to read. i’m glad you had such special relationships with your grandmothers!!
A new job?!? Congrats! And I’m glad you posted this post over here – I loved it when I first read it!
THANKS! so excited – it’s super busy while i’m there, but once my work is done i can leave, which is really great for the whole “balance” thing.
What a beautiful story! Thanks for sharing it with us, you and your kids were very fortunate to have known her:) It is such a shame today that so many people take handmade work for granted, there’s no appreciation for real skill anymore:(
I think our passionate little corner of the world is working to change that! Maybe people are getting sick of clothes that fall apart after 5 washes…
very cool and inspiring post! Love that you actually have something she created and her tools.
ME TOO! Thanks Jess.
What a treasure!
Such a cool post Kristen. One of my favorites I’ve read.
Oh thanks, Chelise!
This was so neat to read Kristin. What a meaningful experience. You are so lucky! Can’t wait for vintage May!