A Legacy of Craft
My Aunt Harriett loved to do handwork, especially crochet and embroidery. She lived at a time (the first half of the last century) when every dresser had a scarf, every sideboard a runner, every table a doily or tablecloth, every chair an antimacassar.
When my Uncle Carl died recently (Aunt Harriett died four years ago) family members stopped by their house to pick out any dishes or pictures that we might want as a remembrance (and to help clear out the house for selling) There were no valuable antiques, no legacy of monetary riches, just the remnants of a modestly lived life – serviceable dinnerware, tchoktes picked up traveling, pictures and scrapbooks from their long ago youth.
I already have plenty of “stuff” in my house and there wasn’t much that interested me until I came across the handwork – stacks and stacks of my aunt’s handwork, from colorful embroidery to delicate lace, made with tiny, endless stitches, a lifetime of care and skill distilled into gentle works of art. And, amazingly, I found my aunt’s sewing basket and pattern box.
The sewing basket (actually a large tin painted to look like wicker) contains cotton crochet thread in several colors, some patterns, and swatches of lace and motifs. The pattern box is overflowing with booklets, dating back to the 30s and 40s and 50s, usually costing a whopping 10 cents each. Sprinkled throughout are magazine clippings of more patterns, typed patterns from friends, the occasional baby announcement (my aunt made a lot of baby afghans) and even a recipe or two scratched on the back of envelopes in my aunt’s spidery handwriting.
I picked out a few doilies and several embroidered table runners; I worry that I’ll regret not taking more, but doilies aren’t really my “thing” and I don’t need more “stuff”. I choose the ones I did in appreciation for their craftsmanship and with an understanding of the work and love that went into each one. And, because they are beautiful.
With blessings from the family, I also brought home the sewing basket and pattern collection. I only know the most basic of crochet, but I may yet someday take it up. I think my aunt, seeing her legacy passed on to the only niece that does handwork, would have been pleased.
My Aunt Harriett contracted multiple sclerosis when she was 17; except for a few years in her early twenties when the disease was in remission and she could walk with a cane, she spent the rest of her 80 plus years in a wheelchair. She and my uncle never had children of their own; their nieces and nephews were their children. By the time I came along, the youngest cousin by many years, her health and eyesight had curtailed her crafting. I remember her as always interested in us children, in what we were doing in our lives, always patient, always a good listener – gifts I appreciate more now in hindsight. I never heard her complain, even though life had dealt her a fair share of blows and disappointments.
In many ways I’m saddened by the fading of this generation (not gone – my Mother and aunts are still going strong) – so many experiences and stories lost. It’s the way of the world though, each generation making way for the next. It’s better to appreciate and be grateful for the gifts of the past generations, and to honor them by remembering.
I’ll find some special uses for the items I brought home and remember. And be grateful.