A spool of thread is not just a spool of thread, nor a thimble just a thimble. Each is part of the treasure buried in my sewing box. Yet mine is only a shadow of the ideal: my grandmother’s sewing box. While mine is plastic, hers is green paisley chintz, with a drawer in the front where remarkable secrets hide. My mother keeps Grandmother’s sewing box, for it deserves to be handed down in the family. The riches in my sewing box—darning eggs and buttonhooks from past eras, and supplies for future creations—remind me of Grandmother and what she taught me.
Grandmother grew old gracefully and her fine character is an example to follow—constant, neat, precise, gracious, and genteel. Over her nearly 98 years, she did a lot of handwork, including tatted lace and the christening gown worn by her daughter, grandchildren and great-granddaughter. She did magnificent embroidery and trained me to sew the satin, lazy daisy, French knot, and outline stitches for my Girl Scout badges. While I finished high school and college, taught school and got married, Grandmother busied her hands with needlepoint, until frailty stopped her.
What Grandmother gave me was a creative skill that would endure throughout my life’s happinesses and hardships. Handwork expanded to dressmaking, knitting, and crocheting. Sewing became my private domain where I invented, dealt with frustration, and relaxed. As a young person, wanting the respect peers do not give, I found self-respect and pleasure in making my own clothes. Besides basic buttons and hems, my mother educated me in using her machine, an ancient converted treadle. She and Dad recognized my progress and paid for a summer sewing class. The family support was heartening.
Beyond embroidery, Grandmother imparted herself. While we struggled over French knots, she was showing me perseverance, a strong work ethic, a criterion of excellence, love for God and family, caring for others. When she said, “Pretty is as pretty does,” she was nurturing my character. Children need a mentor and model, as well as encouragement to find a creative outlet they enjoy, without the pressure of performance. For me, the guidance came from within my family. Yet my children learned their art from dedicated schoolteachers and music tutors. My husband and I support them because we have seen the value of creative skills for ourselves.
In Kenya, making curtains helped me cope with the stress of establishing myself in a new culture. Knitting occupied my hands during the sadness before my father’s death, providing a beautiful sweater from our last days together. With a joy in serving, I created my daughter’s senior banquet gown in South Africa. While I sat stitching on tiny beads with a lap full of silk and lace, I was again thankful for the woman who taught me so much. Little did Grandmother know how sewing would provide stability as I moved around the world and through life’s challenges.