Needlework and Family: Generations of Art and Love
Heirlooms and Memories
Women have historically incorporated needlework into their daily lives. In the past it was a matter of survival: knitting warm woolen socks for the entire family or mending a dress to last through another summer. Now we have the luxury of sewing, knitting, and crocheting for pleasure as well as for necessary clothing and household items.
Some needlework becomes treasured because of outstanding workmanship or unusual design. The greatest treasure, however, is the time women spend with each other as they create things for themselves and their loved ones. I would rather mend an apron while talking to a dear friend than create an art quilt for sale to a stranger.
I hope my happy memories of sewing, knitting, and crocheting inspire you to thank a friend or relative for sharing their skills with you. Perhaps you will also want to share your own skills with a friend as well.
All photographs in this hub are my own.
A Sewing Quote
"Methinks it is a token of healthy and gentle characteristics, when women of high thoughts and accomplishments love to sew..." Nathaniel Hawthorne, The Marble Faun, 1859
My Sewing Memories
From Pillowcases to Prom Dresses
Learning to Sew
I believe I learned to sew shortly after birth. I watched Mom sew and was fascinated by her sewing machine. I also watched Granny embroider pillowcases and dresser scarves. Sometimes she would thread a needle for me and let me try a few stitches.
By fifth grade I was in 4-H and learning the basics from the great project manuals published by Purdue University's Cooperative Extension Service. Mom was able to teach me her shortcuts, although any project bound for the county fair had to be done "by the book." The 4-H judges were without mercy!
Learning to Fix Mistakes
Mom's approach to teaching was simple: let kids do as much as they can on their own. Intervene when they get stuck or when there is potential for damage or danger. When I did make mistakes, Mom would sometimes do the ripping out for me, but I had to do the fixing myself. This system must have worked, because I rarely made the same mistake twice and became a fearless dressmaker because I knew that everyone makes mistakes and mistakes can be fixed.
Learning to Laugh
My crowning achievement in 4-H was a prom dress in white eyelet. It had a lining, lots of gathers, buttonholes, lace edging, and...a zipper. Yes, I got through all those gathers and understitching and lining, but the zipper laughed in my face. For some reason, I first installed it wrong-side-out. After ripping it out, I put it in with perfectly straight stitches--but upside-down. Mom found me sobbing at the machine, ripped out the zipper again, and handed the dress back to me. As Granny always said, "Third time's the charm," so I finally got the zipper properly sewn. That dress went to two proms, then was shortened for wearing under my high school graduation gown.
And we still laugh over that zipper that made me cry!
Costumes for Fun
One of my favorite things to sew is a costume for the stage or for a class project. I have a collection of patterns covering every historical period. I also learned to draft my own patterns when a commercial pattern was not quite right. Costumes are fun because they don't have to be perfect like a wedding gown or a red carpet dress. I have fun trying new techniques, knowing the stage costume just has to look good from twenty feet away!
Crocheting and Knitting Together
Growing Up with Needlework
Crocheting was practiced by most of the women in my family. My cousin and I learned to crochet while in grade school. I still remember the multicolored tube top LeaAnn made. She wore it when pretending to be Cher. I made endless potholders and scarves, as well as a crocheted vest that was very stylish in the seventies--and is back in style, if only I still had it.
Needlework to Pass the Time
Later, as a married lady, my crocheting and knitting would help me relax during my commutes to downtown Chicago by train. I also took projects along to work on while visiting my husband's grandparents. His Granny and I knit while visiting with his grandfather at a nursing center. Maria, a friend of the family, would learn we were there and come visit while her husband slept in a room nearby. On one visit Maria measured around my neck and crocheted a collar for me from memory during our brief visit.