Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Simple Gifts

I have mentioned that I sew on my grandmother's Bernina 930, but haven't mentioned her skills as a seamstress. The 930 was the last sewing machine she owned, and an object of pride for her.

Her pride became such a joy to me!
I don't remember exactly when I carted her 930 from western Kansas back to Arkansas, but it was several years ago.  My aunt spent several months talking her out of the machine that had sat unused for years. It was painful for her to give up, even to me, her only granddaughter.  At that point, several strokes had left her without much control of one side of her body and her eyesight was too poor to even read. I wondered if her reluctance was really her hope for another chance to sew again.

After a few years, she would just laugh when my mother told her about "the beautiful things" I made with her machine, because she no longer remembered owning a sewing machine.  It was so sad for me to think that she had truly forgotten more than I ever knew about the art of sewing.

Nanny made great fitting, stylish outfits for me.  There was one outfit in particular that stands out: a solid orange knit skirt and a coordinating striped tank top. I loved it.  I'm sure my eight-year-old tomboy self wore it out.  It rivaled the best RTW of the time, which we all know was much higher quality in the early 70's. I normally hated skirts and dresses, but I loved that one.

My mom still brags about the formal gowns her mother made her, with nothing more than a description of what she envisioned; no pattern necessary, maybe not even a picture.  Nanny would grab some newsprint, draft her own pattern and it would turn out beautifully.  I imagined a true fairy godmother at work.
My grandmother's family, sans her eldest brother (she is center back).
Most of them were adults with their own families by the time this one was taken.
She survived all her siblings, by many years.
Nanny grew up during the depression, the oldest girl in a family of eight children.  She and her three sisters learned to sew early.  As an adult, she would window shop after-hours with her sketch book to knock-off the latest fashions.

However, her extreme attention to crafting perfection is the reason my mother never taught me to sew.  My mom's painful memories of ripping out imperfect seams, and sobbing at the sewing machine under the tutelage of her mother prevented her from exposing me to something similar.  I had to wait for my seventh grade Home Ec teacher to show me how to thread a machine.

My memories of my grandmother run much broader and deeper than sewing.  She was a wonderful lady, with a great sense of humor, who worked hard her whole life, much of it as her family's breadwinner.  She was a kind Sunday school teacher, always incorporating some sort of craft into the first-graders' lessons.  A wonderful storyteller, she fascinated me with her tales of playing hooky from kindergarten, walking to the river to talk to the fishermen by herself and hopping freight trains to travel from one side of the city to the other (also alone).  She worked as a riveter on B29s in WWII.  An exceptional athlete, she played on a national soccer team and held the high jump record at her high school for decades.  She helped me see how important forgiveness was, most of all to the one doing the forgiving.

Me, my mom and Nanny.  A long time ago.  Nanny is radiant,
because she doesn't have to worry about me being an old maid anymore.

Nanny's battle with dementia and a failing body ended last week, at 93.  I had already missed her for a very long time. I will be forever grateful for her many gifts, always reminded of them all when I sew.


  1. What lovely memories and what a beautiful family. Isn't it wonderful that you have a skill passed down to you from your grandmother.

    1. Thank you, Carole. It is wonderful for me to be able to think about her so often. It will be hard for me to ever replace that sewing machine!

  2. So sorry for your loss. I too sewed on my grandmother's machine, and still have it. Hers was a Pfaff 7570. She taught my mom, and both of them taught me starting with American Girl doll clothes.
    I lost my grandfather to dementia and know how devastating it can be to watch the disease progress. At least now they both are in better places.

    1. How fun to start sewing AG doll clothes! Another fun memory with my daughter comes to mind. Thanks for the note and enjoy your Pfaff.

  3. Your story made me cry. I lost my mom, from whom I inherited the gift of sewing , to Alzheimer's ,so I know the feeling of loss that lasted through the 15 years of her illness!
    What a beautiful threesome you made in that photo!

    1. Thanks for the note, Diana. It is a brutal passage of time to watch your loved one fade away. So glad that your mom left you a great gift -- I love your creations.


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