Gathering the pieces

It's been over a year now that I lost my Grammy.  Vintage wooden spools of thread stored in a blue-tinted Ball mason jar sit on my studio table.  I'm so grateful to have inherited most of her crafting supplies.  My daughter recently asked to sew and declared she is making a quilted-crinkly-baby-mat-toy.  I observe her cutting squares of fabric.  I try my best to be quiet, but I can feel my Gram's fierce sense of control in the domestic realm rising up within me.  I want to tell her exactly how to cut the pieces so they'll sew together nicely or how to choose colors that follow a specific scheme, but I don't.  I know my daughter will have none of this because I have cultivated an intrinsic drive within her to create without rules.  I remember when I first learned to sew at my mother's kitchen table on Great Grammy Laura's antique black singer with a stinky old motor.  My Mom didn't offer much direction.  I was old enough to run the machine safely while she supervised from a distance.  I remember a sense of readiness and spontaneity while learning a new skill.  It felt like finally, now I can make it myself, whatever it is.  I own this. 

Now I watch as my six-and-a-half-year-old sews with Grammy's thread - thread that is older than the dearest and oldest person she knows, my mother, her beloved G.G.  She comments, "Grammy was like me, she liked pink, because there's a lot of it."   I contemplate how she, like me, like Gram is drawn to the sewing machine to match swatches of color.  I can imagine Grammy as a stunning young woman sitting at her machine sewing along when these spools of thread were brand new.  She had such grace, effortlessness and authority.  She owned it.  I can remember as a young tween sitting on the beachhouse porch one summer day when she was so upset that most of my clothes in the pile of laundry she was folding, were falling apart at the seams.  She showed them to me through the window, wondering why we would pay money for new clothes that fall apart immediately.  I can hear myself saying that same thing now to my daughter about the clothes given to her from certain chain stores.  I can also hear Grammy, ten years ago when we were sewing the garments for my wedding party, gently doing her best to give directions on assembling the pattern properly.  We were both getting frustrated because I didn't yet have the skills to do it well and her skills weren't as sharp anymore.  She had command of the skill and I was frantically gathering the pieces as they began to fall away.

She learned this craft as a way to clothe herself and her family afforadably and beautifully.  Over a span of four generations the need to learn to sew has diffused, but not the domineering drive to create, nor the importance of passing on a skill from mother to child. 



I am grateful my children have the opportunity to touch that which I had the privledge to witness and imitate, that which she modeled so sweetly.

- In treasured and loving memories of my dear Grammy, Frances P. Shilling


  1. Sweet little project Alita! Good job :)
    Jenn, I've been thinking about Gram a lot these past few days, thanks for your beautiful tribute that put into words what I feel when I pass along a skill I learned from her too. Whether teaching knitting at camp or showing Joseph how to use the sewing machine recently for a school project, hearing my words echo her instruction reminds me of so many cherished memories with her. I remember what you spoke about at her memorial... the tangible fierceness of her love, the complexity of those emotions and memories intertwined with the beachhouse. It was a little bit of a teary Memorial Day weekend as the reality of what we're missing would hit me...

  2. She really was the best Grammy ever.