Saturday, November 22, 2008

Born to work with fibre, I guess: An excavation of love

When Grandma Helen passed away over five years ago, my mother and uncle faced the herculean task of cleaning out her house and selling it. They could have called in help, boxed things up, sold things off and gotten it done and over with quickly, but they didn't. They decided to take their time. Gram was a firebrand, creative, a collector of quite a few things, and sorely missed by a lot of people. All the grandkids were allowed to come to the house when we wanted and set aside things we would like to have. Those things would be okayed by mom and uncle, and given to us. Mom gave away pieces of the glass collection to friends, anyone touched by Helen who wanted a keepsake. She still does it. It took them over a year to clean out the house and sell it, but it was worth it.

Early on, I offered to deal with all the fabric and fibre-related things. Gram was mostly a crocheter, but she also did a good amount of knitting and sewing (clothes for us, then later doll and puppet clothes). I asked Mom to check with uncle, his daughters and my sister (the other three grandkids) and see if anyone else wanted to join me while I sorted through the boxes, or split stuff with me. No one did. So one day four or so years ago, Mom and I spent the day at the house. We cried. We laughed. I swore at Gram when I was stabbed by rusty pins that she left in pieced-together pieces of fabric. Gram had far more WIPs and UFOs than I do, which is somehow reassuring. Take, for instance, this blue cardigan, found in a bag with a plenty more yarn, 80% finished and still on a circular needle:

I plan to finish it and give it to my older sister, who was very close to Gram and misses her terribly.

Most of the acrylic yarn (bags and bags of Red Heart) was given to a ladies' church auxiliary for making blankets. For the last five or so years of her life, Gram was far less mobile and spent a lot of time watching TV and making granny square afghans. Mom would buy 1 lb. balls of Red Heart by the bagful every so often and drop them off. Mom still has dozens of these afghans, which she occasionally gives away, and I have a couple:

The rust/mustard/white afghan is also crocheted by hand - by my great-grandmother K., Grandma Helen's mom. I've had it since my pre-teens and use it every day.

I also brought a big bag of acrylic home with me and sent most of it to my husband's home-bound grandmother. Most of the fabric stash, once I had removed all the rusty pins and updated my tetanus shot *rollseyes*, went to a family friend who is an avid quilter. I kept a few things, including all of Gram's knitting needles and crochet hooks. While I usually use my Denise interchangables for knitting, once in a while I use a set of her straight needles. I definitely use the crochet hooks.

She kept all her crochet hooks in that old alka-seltzer bottle for as long as Mom can remember.

Now that we're mostly settled into the house (it's been a year), I'm starting to delve into the boxes that were not meant to be unpacked for a while. One of those was the auxiliary knitting box: the sub-prime yarn stash, UFOs and things I don't use regularly but want to keep. And mementos. Here are a few tidbits, and their stories.

Several two-sided crochet samples, and a selection of crochet flowers.

The blue and white two-sided crochet sample in the picture above is special - Mom says this piece is exactly the same as a baby blanket that Gram made for me when I was born. Mom has the blanket. The crochet flowers are something that always make me think of Gram. In my teens, she began decorating sweatshirts with these in various colour combinations, also embroidering leaves and stems, and adding a crochet bit around the neckline. They became very popular at our church, and she made them for a lot of people. I think I still have a couple, but they don't fit any more. Mom definitely has some. I now have several bags of these flowers, apparently waiting for decades for their own sweatshirts.

The ladybug dress, with matching bag. All together now: "Aaaaaaaaw!"

This was also made for me as a child. I don't remember wearing it, but boy do I hope I did. That matching baggy is awesome. I think I need to make a bigger version, like, now.

As I said before, going through those boxes was a whirlwind of emotion. We laughed, we cried, I swore, we laughed some more. And then there were the things that stopped me dead in me tracks. Take, for example, the following:

An odd colour combination for granny squares.

Mom pulled out the bag with this yarn and four sample granny squares. It was all packed away together. I can think of only one good reason Gram would try fighting with fuzzy yarn to make matching orange and blue granny squares. I did my undergraduate at Syracuse University. It was my first time living away from home, and Gram was probably more worried about me than my mother. I would get cards and letters from her regularly, usually with a $20 bill tucked inside and a post-it note that said, "Get yourself a pizza. I love you, honey." But what does this have to do with the granny squares and yarn above?

The colours of Syracuse University - and a considerable amount of my wardrobe at that time, since I was in the marching and pep bands, were, and are, orange and blue.

We could be wrong - we're guessing about her intentions, of course. That yarn is pretty old (see label), but then, she was a frequent thrift store and yard sale shopper. But other things don't require conjecture:

Handwritten notes, and monogram initials.

There are hundreds of little pieces of paper just like this one, with notes scribbled on them - colour combinations, bits of patterns, sometimes mixed with bits of scripture. Tangible reminders, as if I need more, of her creativity, energy and faith. And the occasional tangible reminders of her love. Those monogram initials? They're mine, for my maiden name. Hard to say what project she bought them for specifically. It's probably in a note somewhere.

I come from a long line of women who worked with fibre. Even today, their work continues to add colour and warmth to the lives of many, not just mine. I know, without a doubt, with the assured knowledge of one who has experienced it, that with each stitch, they were thinking of the intended recipient of their work - very often me - and of those who came before them, those who taught them. Every night that I pull out that alka-seltzer bottle of crochet hooks, I honour her memory. Every time I cover myself or my husband with one of those blankets, I am wrapping myself in the love of my grandmothers.

Cheesy? Sappy? Youbetcha. But I will never go cold, and I will always feel their love.

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