Now that I am a grandmother, I have been recalling times I spent with my grandmothers. My maternal grandmother began teaching me to sew when I was quite young. I was probably still in preschool when we began my sewing lessons.
My grandmother had kept an old doll of my mother’s, and when I visited, my grandmother and I made clothes for the doll out of old scraps of fabric. I called the doll Sewing Doll. In those years, I wasn’t very imaginative in naming my dolls. I had other dolls named Big Doll and Baby Doll. The only dolls with fancy names were those that came from the store with them, like Chatty Cathy and Skipper.
Sewing Doll lived at my grandmother’s house in a sewing box filled with scraps of cloth and lace and ribbon from clothes my mother and grandmother had made over the years. At first, I didn’t get a needle. All I was allowed to do was to drape Sewing Doll with the scraps of material.
I couldn’t really play with Sewing Doll, because her legs were held on only with a rubber band, which broke regularly, causing me to cry and my grandmother to hunt down another rubber band so she could conduct hip replacement surgery. All Sewing Doll was good for was draping with fabric and modeling the fashions we concocted.
When I began demanding real clothes for Sewing Doll, my grandmother and I began our sewing projects. On rainy afternoons, when my brother was otherwise occupied, we sewed.
At the time, my grandmother was a decade younger than I am now, but she weighed a lot more than I do. Our sewing time was usually spent on the floor, which was easy for me at age four or five, but my grandmother complained about having to get up and down. Still, she would do almost anything for her grandchildren, so she got down on the floor to sew with me. I wonder if I will be as accommodating when my granddaughter wants me to play with her.
The bodice of the dress that Sewing Doll is sporting in this picture is made from an old dress or apron of my mother’s. I don’t know where the lace for the skirt came from. It’s so old it has moth holes in it, though it didn’t when we first made the dress. Most of the stitches in this garment are mine (though my grandmother probably did the buttonhole on the back that you cannot see). I used leftover pieces of yarn to braid the dashing scarf that Sewing Doll wears around her neck. This outfit probably dates from the time I was seven or eight.
Sewing in those days was a game for me, not a hobby or a homemaking skill. Over the years, my sewing skills improved. By the time I was in high school, I made a lot of my own clothes, and had graduated from sloppy hand-stitching to my mother’s old Singer machine. When I became proficient, Mother bought a new Singer Select-O-Matic with five different built-in stitches, and that is what I made most of my clothes on.
One Christmas when I was in high school, I took scraps from my mother’s and my sewing projects and made several outfits to give to my younger sister for her Barbie doll. Because the Barbie clothes were so small, I reverted to hand-sewing most of the seams, but my stitches were much neater than those on Sewing Doll’s garments.
When my grandmother moved into an assisted living facility, which was now about thirty years ago, my mother shipped the box containing Sewing Doll and her scraps of material to me. But I never sewed with my daughter. I’m still not sure if she can sew on a button, though I know my son can.
Both my grandmother and my mother have died, but Sewing Doll still lives in her box with a few remaining bits of material. She needs a new rubber band. She and her box are buried in the back of a closet in my home, and I only take her out of the closet on rare occasion.
If I ever sew with my granddaughter, I’ll have to find new scraps of material. And maybe I’ll even splurge on a new doll. Though Sewing Doll’s charm is her age and the memories I have of sewing with my grandmother. A new doll would have to build her own memories, along with her wardrobe.
What items do you have at home that bring back childhood memories?
Theresa is the award-winning author of historical fiction about settling the American West. Before she turned to writing, Theresa was an attorney, mediator, and human resources executive.
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