Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Grandma's Ghost

My maternal grandmother's name was Rita. Isn't that just so pretty? I love that name. She died when I was 16 years old. And as often happens, I didn't realize all that her existence encompassed until she was gone. I knew she sewed, but I didn't know she went to school for it and was a bit of a wizard at  it--the clothes and gowns she made were unbelievable! I knew she crocheted, but I didn't know that she made those old-fashioned lacy tablecloths that you just don't see anymore and that take tons of hours to make. Every time I am faced with a sewing conundrum that leads me to Google (and usually a fair bit of time finding exactly what I want) I think "This would be so much quicker if I could just ask Grandma." A lesson learned too late...

My brother lives in the house that used to be my grandma's. When my uncle was over there the other day helping my brother and Dad with some major yard work he went to check the attic for something and called my mom right away. "There's her big old sewing box up there and a bunch of patterns. Did you know all that was up there?" Needless to say, we shot over there immediately. The patterns were pretty much a no-go--they became squirrel fodder long ago (grandma had squirrels in her attic once - I loved this, but apparently homeowners don't find such things amusing). All I salvaged were a few muslins she had saved in plastic bags. But the sewing box? Into the car and home right away to explore. Is there any better way to spend a raining-cats-and-dogs Sunday?

Looks like the squirrels had a go at this too...
The nephew told me "I would like to have a box like this to store things in." I don't know what he wants to store in it but he had second thoughts when he saw that the wood was in pretty bad shape on the top and didn't even hold the screws on one side.

 It's one of those huge boxes that pulls apart and has a bunch of different levels. There are removable legs too in case you wanted to stand it up next to a sewing table or chair.

 I like looking at these and wondering what they were for. What was she making that was purple? Why the red anchor? Were they just great deals or did she have a project in mind?

 This I can relate to - if ever I am featured on 'Hoarders' it will be because I've been buried under my own zipper collection. If you look to the right just under that yellow zipper you can see a black thread--she had salvaged the zipper from something and left a few hanging threads. My mom said that whenever Grandma was tossing something she removed everything she could still use.

 One of the hallmarks of a dressmaker - endless hooks and eyes.

I love the old-fashioned packaging on these needles. I need a ballpoint needle and I'm wondering if I should just use hers or leave it as she left it....

 Mumsy wasn't sure where the Necchi sewing machine ended up....I believe her old Singer is the one in our spare room. I'm going to have to pull that out and show it to you one day--it's the kind that is built into the desk and folds down into it. It's wicked old-fashioned looking. Anyway---these are throat plates and bobbins and machine feet for it. Most of them I couldn't even identify--she had 4 hemmers though, each one different (and I only know that because it had 'hemmer' stamped onto it).

She had an unbelievable amount of buttons. Which I pretty much expected she would. Who doesn't love buttons? I have a ton and I rarely use them. Hers are all of the 'useful' variety--mine are more novelty buttons.

 Check out the prices on those labels. One day someone is going to go through my sewing box and find all my labels that I keep forgetting to put on things. And her corner-poker-outer stick looks much better than the one I use which frequently does NOT poke the corner out.

 Good old-fashioned shears, pinkers, and seam nips. And a snap setter. I love that she had this. I don't know why but it seems more like a luxury instead of a necessity, like she treated herself to something to make inserting snaps a bit easier (because those little tools they give you are no fun to use).

 I love this old box that used to hold embroidery threads. Packaging certainly was different then, eh?

 These electric scissors prompted the nephew to ask "Did they even HAVE electricity back then?"

After I took everything out I used a hand-vac to get rid of any dust and debris. I wiped it all down, and then put everything back. I don't know if I could ever bring myself to use any of this. I know they're just things, and I have most of what she had--the fancy scissors, and all the zips, and the rulers and the little gadgets. I feel like I'd be disturbing something that shouldn't be disturbed. And yet...wouldn't there be a fabulous connection between past and present? How great would it be if I could cut fabric using her shears, and have her knowledge and wisdom travel through my fingertips and result in a perfect project? But then again...this is me we're talking about. I would probably just sit there, turning her shears over in my hands and thinking "These were Grandma's. She used these decades ago. And now I'm holding them." Then my mind would be blown and I'd get nothing done...

What about you? Do you have any similar (or even not-so-similar) "hand me downs?"


  1. I so know the feeling of "I wish I could just ask grandma this". . . I was another who learnt that lesson to late. In my case she died when I was 13, which was before my crafty streak had taken hold and all of her massive stash was chucked out or sold by my not-crafty family (it must have skipped a generation). I just wish I'd found my crafty bone earlier!

  2. What a neat find! It can be fascinating to go through someone's things and try to figure out why they kept things or how they were seeing things in their mind.

    My grandfather was a re-upholsterer and I so wish that I could have learned upholstery from him before he passed away. He was also an excellent sewer, which is another thing that I wish I could have asked him about. Unfortunately, he passed away at a time in my life where I didn't have an interest in either, but my Mom still thinks that I've inherited a few of his skills.

  3. My grandmother's job was to mend clothes!!! She used to make those lacy crochet tablecloths that take forever to be finished!!! I wish like the previous commenter Sarah I'd found my crafty bone earlier... my mom is a super sewer herself just like her mother :) I like to think that sewing is in my genes or something... At least it's not too late to ask my mom on tips when it comes to sewing :) What I treasure from my grandmother is her embroidery flosses... I have a bag full of them.. and I just stare them.. maybe I could use them on this year's Christmas ornaments...I'd like to think that she would want that too... Thanks for sharing this Beth :) I had a good laugh with Zac's comment on the electric scissors.. heheheeh

  4. Sounds like your grandma was a serious sewer. You've unearthed a treasure. My grandmothers weren't sewers and I never really knew them. You're so lucky.

  5. i had the sort of relatives that could do the make a basic frock, mend a hole etc. My mum made me loads and loads of dancing costumes when i was little, i just took it for granted! i must get her to tell me the secret of just drawing things on paper in roughly the right shape and size and turning it into something you can wear! keep some things but use others, it'd like to think my things were still used and loved when i'm gone!

  6. Oh that is the most amazing thing! How come we don't see sewing boxes as nifty as that these days?
    And the contents! Vintage heaven!

    You are one lucky grandkid. :)

  7. I have a big box of vintage buttons that my grandfather gave me almost 27 years ago. He passed away when I was around seven years old (i'm 33 now). I never could bring myself to use his buttons, they've sat in the box all this time. I've used one or two but it feels like I'm giving him away, and using things that aren't mine. I've finally started working on some felt flowers and some projects for some swaps that I'm in, and I prefer the look of the vintage buttons to the newer buttons. So I've started "sharing" my grandfathers buttons, and I feel pretty good about it. I feel like I'm keeping his memory alive by sharing a little piece of him, although I do still have a hard time parting with I won't even let my sister have his

  8. Love this post! Makes me miss Grandma Rita and I didn't even know her. My mother had that same sewing box. Brings back great memories.

  9. i had such a fun time reading this! must have been so great exploring through the box. :)

  10. My Grandma made a lot of my mom and her sister's clothes. I always liked going through her drawer of old patterns that moved with them from North Georgia to SC. Everything of Grandma's that was stored up had a certain smell, and I loved it!
    On another note, I'm using my husband's grandmother's Necchi sewing machine (I hadn't heard of them before I got it and hadn't heard of it since until now). She's still alive and just loves the fact that it's getting some use. Hubs has asked if I need a newer machine, but I can't bring myself to part with hers!

  11. This is so fab and I know exactly what you mean about not being sure if you'd use any of it. How do I know? A while back I inherited Monsieur's grandmother's sewing basket full with lovely bits and pieces. She died at the age of 100 and I was lucky enough to still have met her - a really interesting and nice person... You really have a beautiful treasure here :-)

    PS: have I mentioned that I think your new profile picture is gorgeous? It is! xo

  12. 1/23/2012 Just found your site and looked at this great article. I may be quite a bit older than you (59) but I felt so wonderful reading this article and remembering my own Mom. I also have all of her sewing things. I still use her old Singer, I have her old sewing box with all of the things she used every day - and sometimes when I make something for my 2 grown daughters or their children I tell them that I used something from 'Granny's box' that they can cherish also. What wonderful memories your article brought back to me.

  13. I just found this great post! I have my grandmothers sewing box, the exact same one as yours (only with the legs). I love having it and I talk to it as if she were with me working on my projects. I have many of her notions and her pinking shears as well that were in it.



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