Sunday, December 23, 2007

The Fibers that Bind, or Raveling Reminiscences

We had a house guest last weekend, which in itself is not so unusual. This time, however, we were precluded from using the guest bedroom, and I offered to make my needlework nest available. In the process of making up the daybed, I not only discovered that we no longer own sheets for a single bed, but I had the joy of re-discovering bed covers from the generations of women in my family who crafted before me.

The first cover uncovered was a quilt from the creativity of my maternal great-grandmother. My Bubbe died when I was about eight or nine and my memories of her are largely sensory (the house always smelled of must and freshly baked cookies, which, incidentally, were kept on the lower shelf of a rolling cart so I could reach without help). I do recall sitting on her lap while she stroked my hair, and I remember the fingers being short and thick - well, all the hands on both sides of my family are clearly the genetic result of generations of peasant potato pickers - and not nimble at all, but she was, after all, over 80 years old. In other words, I don't remember her creating anything other than cookies.

The quilt is the classic Sunbonnet Sue pattern, and unfortunately there's not anyone to tell me about the fabrics used, nor when it was sewn. I don't even know if it's the only quilt she made; no others are in the family as far as I know, and neither my grandmother nor great-aunt quilted. Though I wish I were inspired to emulate her, I don't think I have the perseverance ever to finish a quilt, so I've never started. I do, however, own a very large quilt frame should the whimsy ever take me....

The other is a hairpin lace afghan which I recall in great detail, since I helped make it. My Nana and I used to spend days together in the den of the house that my Papa built just after WW2. We started by exercising to Jack LaLane, then watched (perhaps in another order) Julia Child, The Edge of Night, Secret Storm, Guiding Light, and As the World Turns. During many of those hours we worked on this hairpin lace afghan, of the finest acrylic yarn to be purchased in the Quad Cities in the early 1970s. Even in memory its construction seemed endless (I think my mother may have done a few stitches here and there to expedite the process [or share in the tedium]), and when finally the loom work was complete, we had another even endless time joining the strips together (from whence may spring my hatred of seaming UFOs).

I learned to knit and crochet at age 10 from my great-aunt by marriage (Bubbe's daughter-in-law) and from my aunt (who had more patience though slightly less skill). From those small fingers sprouted hippie head bands, granny square purses and vests, and other groovy accessories. I graduated to sweaters in the 1980s, about the same time I discovered natural fibers when I moved to the big city. I also discovered shoulder pads, but that's another decade and best forgotten. Always as I reach for my needles I realize I'm also reaching to the past.


  1. What cherished memories those both evoke. How lovely.

  2. Great afghan! I too had to put up a daybed in my sewing room for last weekend. I realized I didn't have any twin bedding either :)