26 April 2010

Another Link in the Chain

Grandma's broomstick, crochet hook and hairpin toolMy paternal grandmother was born in 1911 in a place then called Grasscreek, Utah. We would have celebrated her 99th birthday this year if she was still here with us.

Her father was born in Wales and immigrated to the United States. Her mother was born in the United States, but my maternal great-grandparents immigrated from England. Undoubtedly, they all spoke English, but I wonder if life here was a series of adjustments for these young families, and I wonder what talents and skills they brought here with them.

I love Irish crochet!Because my grandmother taught me to crochet, knit and just about every other form of needlecraft under the sun, I wondered who taught her. I wondered if this treasure was passed down from generation to generation. I wondered if I had a little bit of Irish crochet in my family tree.

So I asked my dad. I wasn't quite expecting his answer.

My grandmother's mom did not teach my grandmother to crochet. She wasn't a crafty soul, although she sometimes did "some kind of needlework" while watching television. A specific form of television. Definitely not something ancestral that came to America aboard a big ship. My dad said my great-grandmother was (gasp) a fan of wrestling, and that she'd often holler at the electronic participants and even throw pillows at them. Wow. Whodathunk?!?

My grandmother, however, was total opposite. She was crafty from the start.

Right now, I'm feeling mighty grateful that's what she passed on to me, because I like crafts a whole lot more than wrestling or even television. But maybe some of my great-grandmother's sport passion trickled down in the form of bicycles. I like love to watch the Tour de France on TV. I hope to be there in person one day, but that's another blog post for another day.

Grandpa, Dad and Grandma, 1937My dad said Grandma was "big into ceramics and Plaster of Paris figurines. She would go to a craft shop to buy molds. She also made her own molds. The craft shop would fire her ceramic figurines in their kiln. They let customers use their kiln at specific times at no charge once a week. I would mix and stir the plaster for her, early on before your uncle was born."

After the family moved to Texas, Grandma had to take up different hobbies because the Lone Star State at that time wasn't too crafty a place. My dad said none of the neighbors did any of the hobbies my grandma did. He said he thinks she learned needlework at a very young age, probably at church, and it became her solace in the land of Blue and Silver (think football) where kilns and shelfy knickknacks were yet to exist.

After my dad started a family of his own and moved us to the desert, we kids would take turns spending a week or two with Grandma each summer. (Because dumping all six of us on her at one time probably would have sent her to her grave early!)

Grandma's broomstick, which Dad doesn't remember her using for needlework, only for chasing him around when he was mischievous...I cherished that one-on-one time with Grandma because I knew each year she would have something new up her sleeve. We sewed, we made beads out of used wrapping paper, we made 3D scene frames from used greeting cards, we made jewelry with safety pins and beads, we cross-stitched, we crewelled, we tatted, we Battenburged, we made jewelry from gum wrappers, we cathedral windowed, we yo-yoed, we log cabined, we braided fabric scraps into rugs and bags. We even dyed white yarn with grape juice one day!

And then Mom and Dad announced a new little sister would be arriving soon. Grandma taught me to crochet so I could make clothing for our new little bundle of joy. We couldn't afford patterns, so Grandma taught me to make up my own. She made an entire tablecloth while I made one tiny little pair of booties.

She later gave me one of her stitch books because I was the only one in the family who showed an interest. I decided to learn every stitch in the book. After several pages, I reached a page that called for a second hook. Well, at the time, I didn't notice the second needle wasn't a hook, so I just kept right on hooking. The process was awkward, but it worked, and it made Tunisian, the next chapter in the book, really, really easy!

Next time we visited Grandma, I showed off my long and jagged Swatch of Many Stitches, and she informed me the two-hook mess actually was knitting, not crocheting, so that's the next thing she taught me. I soon had a whole new set of tools, and the following year, she advanced me to cabling and lace.

Grandma's size LOREAL crochet hookMeanwhile, my mom was trying to earn extra money while she stayed home with the new baby, and she asked if I would put an edging on a bunch of plain pillow cases after she finished embroidering designs. Next thing I knew, I was infatuated with thread crochet, a passion that still burns deep inside, even though aging eyes don't make it too easy these days.

Mom also ignited my love of sewing. She asked my dad for a sewing machine for her birthday one year, and she shared. She made pink strawberry overalls for me to wear to my first sock hop, and as best I can remember, I'm the only kid who got a homemade outfit from Mom. She had to go to work shortly after that, and between housework and houseful of kids, there weren't many after hours left for creativity. Mom later trusted me to keep her sewing machine in my bedroom as long as I wouldn't use it in the middle of the night. (Actually, I did; I just turned the wheel by hand instead of using the foot pedal so I wouldn't wake anyone.) Mom also allowed me take her sewing machine to work while I was pulling a graveyard shift at a switchboard the summer before my senior year.

All these memories make me wish I had a daughter to pass the tools and techniques along to. (Okay, okay, I'll write it grammatically correct: a daughter to whom I could pass along the tools and techniques. There. I hope the preposition police are satisfied.) I did adopt an eight-year-old girl once upon a time a very long time ago in a different life who asked me to teach her to crochet and knit. To her credit, she did try. She didn't take any crafty hobbies with her when she prematurely left the nest, but maybe one day she'll slow down enough to remember her crafty adoptive roots.

And if not, I've come to realize I am passing along my passion, right here, on this very blog. It will never be the same thing as teaching a grandchild of my own something my grandmother taught me, but there are people out there I may never meet in person who hopefully have been inspired or at least entertained by my attempt to leave a little piece of me behind as I spread a little fiber fantasy all over the world.
Come on, Eyes, don't fail me now!


  1. Oooh, awesome, I always wondered what is would have been like to have my grandmas teach me how to crochet or knit. They both knew how, but passed away before I became interested in it. My mom doesn't knit or crochet, but she sews.

    I wonder what they would have taught me. My maternal grandma has all sorts of crochet items left, but my paternal grandmother... I don't have anything left from her. I should really ask my dad about her. She was awesome.

  2. The preposition police are simply not allowed in the presence of one as artistic, crafty and talented as yourself... Hrrrmmmphhht.

    The things we teach from the heart are kept there, long after the young ones fly the nest. Your ability to create and inspire is magnetic, it's captivating. And your treasures live on in the smiles of those (like me) who find your inspiration to be contagious!

    I'm glad you're YOU. I'm glad you're here, and Now.

  3. what a lovely and interesting story! it's amazing the variety of way in which we've come to our crafts. :)

  4. You are definitely passing along a great passion!! I have not, as yet, had the nerve to try it though if I keep reading I'm sure you'll suck me in. :))

  5. What an amazing and interesting story! I've read your blog post as if it was a novel. I'll be back tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and...

  6. I love your story! So, it's in the genes. I'm sad to say that I don't have a single crafty gene. I tried to learn to knit while I recovered from my first back surgery 20 years ago, but even when all I could do was lie on my back, knitting didn't keep my attention.

    But, I do enjoy seeing fruits of someone else's talents!

    I LOVE watching the TdF on TV every year too. I even watch all the early season races (like Fleche Wallone, yesterday). Yes, I'm a cycling addict, and I'm the first in my family as far as I can tell! It's not all in the genes!

  7. Lovely post! I really enjoyed reading it... you're a great writer. And your photos of broomstick lace make me want to learn how to do that.

    I grew up in Texas in the 50's, 60's, 70's, and I can tell you there were plenty of crafty ladies even back then. My grandmother was one of those who loved trying new crafts, hence the huge stash of craft supplies at her house when she moved to a retirement home. She had everything! And the lady down the street from our house in Houston had a kiln in her garage.

    Before the 50's, I think women turned to crafting to make-do in creative ways during the depression and war years. If your grandma moved to Texas in the 70's, though, crafts fell to a low point for a while, like into the 90's.

  8. Thank you for a wonderful post

  9. Your work is so astoundingly lovely. I've never seen anything like this before.

    Your story is very different to mine, but I think that's what makes the knitting and crochet community so vibrant. Loved reading it. :)

  10. Broomstick and Hairpin Lace! I did both of those way back in high school in the 70s.

    What a nice post. I enjoyed it.

  11. How interesting to read your story. I have learned all my crafts from books and have had a go at many of them. I had three sons and yes, I would have liked a daughter with whom to share my skills. I head a chats and crafts group at church to share ideas but home made craft items aren't appreciated as much in the UK as in America so our group is very small. It's not been going long so I hope numbers will grow.
    I hadn't got round to making any snowflakes until this year and I came across your wonderful flakes while searching for patterns. Thank you so much for sharing.


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