Saturday, May 12, 2007

A Tribute to Mothers and Fiberart Traditions

While there are some weavers and fiber artists who are the first in their family line to practice these arts, many of us come from a long line of weavers, seamstresses, quilters, knitters, spinners, and so on. I am no exception. I do not know of any weavers in my immediate ancestry, but I am sure there were somewhere up the line. My great grandmothers, grandmothers, and mother were, and are, seamstresses and quilters.
I had three great-grandmothers that I remembered. One was from England and often gave us a baggie with mini-marshmallows and chocolate chips to eat on the way home from visiting. I mainly remember her accent, her bun, and the butterscotch candies she also gave us. My maternal great-grandmother I only knew by her voice on the phone. I didn’t meet her until I was 15 years old and she was on her deathbed. The great-grandmother I remember the most was my Grandma Myrtle. Her house was where the big family feasts were once held and us kids would run under the quilting frame she sometimes had set up. She was always very kind and loving to us kids and her cooking was the good solid kind with homemade rolls and pies and all. I still have a quilt made by her and a quilt top.
One grandmother tried to teach me to knit. I remember the knitting needles were big, bright green, and made of wood. The yarn was a shocking pink and was acrylic. I must confess I never have progressed much beyond the knit and the purl. That same grandmother crocheted the most beautiful doilies from fine crochet thread and made huge braided wool rugs. When she passed on, I got a box filled with cut rag strips and a partially braided rug. I plan to weave a wool rag rug with those strips soon.
My other grandmother, my mother’s mother, sewed. She worked in a garment factory. I remember her taking me there once or twice and introducing me to the ladies. I must have been fairly young as the memories are rather vague. I can still recall the smell though.
My mother sews. She sewed most of my clothes when I was growing up. I have many memories of going to the, then, dreaded fabric store. She would look through the patterns and then would have me look at a few that she was considering for me. She always told me not to look at the color or print in the picture but to look at the line and shape of the dress. After choosing the pattern she would walk through the fabric store to find just the right fabric with me in tow. Occasionally she would stop and hold a bolt of fabric up to my chin to see how the color would look. I would wrinkle my nose from the starchy smell. She would then squeeze a handful of fabric together to see how badly it wrinkled. If all went well we went home with the makings of a new outfit for me, but my trials were not over. I still had to endure pattern fittings, pinnings, and then the pinning of the hem.
What I didn’t realize then, but certainly do now, is that my mother gave me excellent training in clothing design. Alas, the sewing gene didn’t kick in for me until I was in college. My poor mom also had to put up with a tomboy for a daughter. I didn’t (and still don’t) like pink and I didn’t like frilly things. To this day I mainly prefer and wear jeans to dresses. I believe the last garment my mother sewed for me was my wedding dress. Even that was a rather plain and simple affair. No meringue confection of a dress for me.
My mother still sews. She got to have one more chance at sewing little girl's clothing for a granddaughter but that granddaughter now has a daughter of her own.
So, Mom, Thank you. Thank you for passing down the fiber tradition to me even though it took so long to root.
Happy Mother’s Day to you and all my grand moms.
I love you, -Renee

To everyone else:
What are the fiber skills that have been passed down from your mothers in your family?


Dana said...

My grandmother loved to make and collect things, but she didn't sew or do any fiber arts that I remember. She did send loads of fabric to my mother (Mimi lived in California, and we lived in Washington) who did sew all of the dresses my two sisters and I wore throughout our childhood. Mom was talking about this recently, saying that at the time she thought of it as simple necessity, but now realizes that it was a form of self expression that she really enjoyed. She doesn't make clothing any longer, but quilts endlessly.
I remember standing at the top of the stairs leading down into Penney's basement in Anacortes, where I could look over the whole fabric department, full of endless possibilities. I learned to sew from my mom and made all of my own clothes in high school, but quit after I graduated from college. I did make my own wedding gown, also pretty plain, and the bridesmaids dresses as well.

Renee said...

Thanks for the wonderful comment Dana! I love to hear the stories of how people got their feet wet in the fiber arts. -Renee