Make This: Repurposing family heirlooms keeps the past alive
by Deirdre Long
May 12, 2013 | 7206 views |  0 comments | 171 171 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Photo: Deirdre Long/The Anniston Star
Photo: Deirdre Long/The Anniston Star
My daughter — aka the Big One — doesn’t know how lucky she is to have an extended family. Besides her two living grandfathers, she has not one, not two, but three living grandmothers: my mom, my husband’s mom and my husband’s step-mom. She even got to meet her great-grandmother (my grandma) and great-grandfather (my husband’s grandfather), who have both since passed.

I didn’t have grandparents nearby when I was a kid. My maternal grandpa died before I was born, and my maternal grandma died when I was just a few months old. And while my paternal grandparents lived into this century, they spent most of their lives in Syracuse, N.Y., while I lived more than 700 miles away in east Tennessee (even when we lived in Massachusetts, where I was born and lived until I was 4, they were still more than 300 miles away).

So I didn’t really get the chance to know my grandparents, save for twice a year — and then just once a year as they got older and eyesight started to fail — when they would make the drive to Tennessee and visit for a week or so.

But when my grandpa passed away in March 2006, grandma was left alone, much farther away than my dad, her only living child, was comfortable with. She, and her boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff, were moved out of the house that she had lived in since the beginning of World War II (save for the time she lived on Army bases while grandpa was enlisted).

There are still boxes and baskets of my grandparents’ stuff scattered throughout my parents’ house. While my grandma was alive — she passed away, in my father’s arms, in 2010 — if I found anything I liked while poking around boxes, she’d let me take it home. And if my mom — who has been in charge of filling the farmhouse with the passed-down antiques and treasures — is in a generous mood, she’ll let me take stuff home, too.

On one trip, it was an expandable sewing cabinet filled with odds and ends — everything from safety pins rusted shut to military patches and buttons to spools of darning thread. Another trip to Tennessee sent me home with a wooden Swiss music box filled with broken wind-up watches … or “clock bracelets” as the Big One calls them, since she’s never really seen anyone wear a watch before.

But one of the biggest hauls I got from my grandma was her collection of hand-embroidered pillowcases. They were piled in a basket with tons of other bedding from her house, and my mom told me to go through and take what I wanted — first dibs before the rest of my siblings went through it (and who doesn’t need free extra bedding?)

Once I saw them, I knew I’d never actually use them as pillowcases. These aren’t just pillowcases, they are works of art sewn on a white cotton canvas, edged with crocheted scallops. Far too nice to actually use on a bed. But perfect as the skirt on a dress for the Big One.

I bought the pattern from Petite Kids Boutique on Etsy (quick PDF download, my favorite way to get patterns), and it sews up pretty quickly. I made a couple of adjustments to my liking, namely using french seams on the inside of the skirt since the cotton of the pillowcase unravels pretty easily.

The Big One loves her new dress, and even if she won’t have memories of her great-grandma, she will still know her a little bit.

Congratulations to Wyndie Medley, Helen Lee and Sharon Haugen, the winners of the quilting book giveaway. Your books are in the mail.
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Make This: Repurposing family heirlooms keeps the past alive by Deirdre Long

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