A Crafty Woman

Growing up I remember my mother as a crafty woman. She was always trying something new out. We lived in small one-horse towns – actually there were usually quite a few horses , even a few cows. Mom was always busy in the kitchen, putting up preserves, pears, peaches and plums. It was quite exciting when the lid blew off of the pressure cooker! Scared the wits right out of her. But it made for a memorable moment.

I remember one year, at Halloween, she made me a witch’s dress and hat out of black crepe paper. I ended up having just a few shreds left, and a somewhat lopsided train that I had not started out with! I stuck with HoBo costumes after that, at least you ended up fully clothed when the trick or treating was done.

Mother always had these magic pointy sticks in her hands, moving back and forth, in and out, creating form out of a ball of yarn. I could not WAIT to do it myself. I remember sitting on my uncle’s couch working with my knitting needles (so that’s what those things were called), I must have been all of 7 or 8, and wondering why my “square” wasn’t square and where all those holes came from. Actually, it started wide and just got more narrow over time, then magically it would get wide again. I was told I had dropped stitches, so there I am looking on the floor, trying to find those little suckers to put them back in.

I still have the little, lacey, pink dress my mother knit for me when I was a baby. There is even a picture of a roly-poly 6 month old wearing it somewhere in the family archives. “There’s little Seedy Beedy, isn’t she cute? ”  When I have a grand-daughter, I think I’ll make one for her as well, but I probably won’t call her “Seedy Beedy”.

Hand knit items were woven in and out of my childhood. I recently discovered that my mother has never knit anything for herself — what a shock!  But rumaging through my cobweb memories — I don’t see her wearing any hand-knit sweaters, hats, gloves or even the skirts that were so popular in the 50’s.

I remember having a small loop weaving loom. I still marvel that you could use that little frame with the teeth on all sides and loops of cotton to make a potholder that STAYED together. How did that thing work??? Remember wood spools for thread??? I do. I had one with little finishing nails in it, with which I used very skinny yarn and made knit coils. I never had stitches drop with that device. Knitting was just a magic art as far as I was concerned.

I had other magic moments as well. We lived in a part of the country where there were natural clay deposits in the stream beds. We would go fishing for clay and make the most beautiful clay bowls and cups imaginable — setting them on the fence post to dry out in the sun, ahhh such magnificent work, until they were inadvertently knocked to the ground, broken and crumbling. Nothing lasts!

We created with other materials as well — hammer, nails and scrap bits of wood — before you knew it we had a palace built in the tree tops and spent untold hours enjoying our lofty domicile. If you really wanted to have fun in my family, you better not be too “girly”. With 2 older brothers I had to learn to fish, shoot a bow, handle frogs, play baseball, clean fish and climb trees, or I’d never have any fun at all. UNTIL my dad and my uncle built me a playhouse — just for me — a one-girl, boy-free palace shaped like a bird house with an 8 pane picture window and a dutch door. I could lock myself away, sit at my little table, play with my dolls, plunk on my toy piano. My made up tunes were so lovely, such a delight for the ears. The walls had paintings of my favorite cartoon characters. I had such lovely times in there, lost in a world of my own creation. It was the best gift I had ever received and I cherish it still.

There were many years when the creative river did not flow through my life. My mother went back to school the same year I started first grade. She began a journey that took her through high school and then college, a nursing degree, a new career and a new husband. We followed along, caught in her wake, wondering where it would take us. My mother was still a crafty woman, and eventually we settled back down into crafty ways. Until then, my grandmother took over for a while, we poured and painted porcelain figurines of pixies and elves. I made a Raggedy Ann to sit on my dresser, I wonder if mother still has her???

When I was a teen my mother started doing Macrame — great wall hangings that covered the windows and acted like curtains. I made belts and bags, no stitches to drop, just knots to tie and beads to string. Then we started candle making. Christmas was so FUN, planning what we would make that year. “What should be the theme this year??” There was the Kitchen Theme year, we made pot scrubbers out of nylon netting and crocheted pot holders. Francis (my step father) made cutting boards. It was fun. Handmade gives a piece of yourself to the recipient.

My mother’s craft room filled up with fabric for quilting, yarn for knitting, twine for tying, a sewing machine and patterns galore. I remember a silk dress she made and the fine embroidery she executed on the yoke. She was a great needle woman. While mom was embroidering, I tried cross stitch, a girl scout sampler (which I still have). Her work was so much better, I just could not get my fingers to cooperate!

BUT I could sew! In the 7th grade my step father and mother found an antique singer treadle sewing machine for me, I have it still. I remember struggling so much with than dang treadle, trying to get the rhythm of heel-toe, heel-toe. My first project was an apron, I got so frustrated that I threw a pair of scissors through the window! I finally got the hang of it, took Home Ec in school, made a blouse, a skirt and from then on I made most of my clothes. Some things worked out and some did not, but I kept trying and learned what patterns and styles would suit me and which fabrics would work out the best. My mother watched me grow into a better seamstress than herself, and I became a Crafty Woman as well.

In High School I took up the magic needles again, determined to succeed. I started with a mohair lace shawl for my mother, as a Christmas present. Knitting each night in my cold room, the upstairs was not kept heated, struggling with cold fingers, a complicated pattern and fuzzy yarn. I don’t think she ever wore it past Christmas day. I found out later that the one fiber she really hated was, you guessed it, mohair. Mental note, when making something for someone else, pick colors THEY like, fiber THEY like, and the type of garment (yep) that THEY would wear! Ah well, it got me into knitting and I was “hooked”.

The next project was a sweater. I know, all I had made up to then were variations of square and rectangle, but I had a favorite history teacher, Dorothy Madison, I loved her. She took us on trips through time from King Louis the 14th to the Mahabarata. I bought my beautiful aran weight Bernat wool, picked a fisherman knit sweater from the Bernat Book of Irish knits (I just found, and bought that book off of EBay). Not only was I making a sweater, but it had Horseshoe Cable, popcorn, right twists, left twists and raglan shaping. My attitude about knitting has always been — “How hard can it be? There is KNIT and there is PURL”, I already knew how to do yarn over (by accident) and slip (again by accident) so what more is there, except to do the slipping and yarn overing when and where you want to, instead of by accident. The sweater turned out great and I felt a great swelling of pride whenever she wore it.

The next project was another sweater, a pullover with raglan sleeves for my boyfriend. I don’t recommend it. The sweater turned out fine, he looked great in it. I totally lost interest in him. I’m not sure what happened there, maybe I poured all of my love into the sweater and had none left for him — it’s a mystery. Make sweaters for beloved teachers, mothers, sons and even husbands, but NOT boyfriends!