Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - May 30, 2002
I spent last weekend going through family photo albums and sorting through boxes in closets. In one plastic storage box, I found my Grandma Ethel Freeland's brown and white sewing bag and its contents.
Grandma died in March 1964, but the items in her sewing bag remained untouched until my parents moved off the farm in October 2000. At that time, I carefully put the contents inside the storage box and included the sewing bag after I washed and folded it. Grandma's sewing bag fit inside a folding wooden frame that she would easily move from place to place. She kept it in her living room between her sewing table and her chair.
Inside the bag was a partially completed cross-stitched kitchen tea towel of a fruit. Below the fruit was a faintly pencilled "Wednesday." The towel was still locked in a now rusting embroidery hoop. I have several of Grandma's embroidered tea towels in my kitchen. One has a radish and a carrot "dancing" with the words "Garden Waltz" stitched across the bottom. Another one for drying "china" has a smiling teacup wearing a skirt. Still another has a woman in a bonnet going to church. "Sunday" is stitched on that one.
Other items in the bag included green and pink embroidery thread, assorted buttons, a pair of garters, crochet hooks and thread, five silver thimbles and one rubber thimble for quilting.
Grandma evidently used quilt block patterns she found in newspapers. One was a Windmill Blades quilt block pattern torn from the Nov. 10, 1954 Weekly Star Farmer. Another was a Sparkling Jewels pattern still pinned to a single completed quilt block. Grandma sent off for patterns, too. Among those in her sewing bag were Kate Marchbanks quilting patterns from Capper's Weekly and Shoo Fly and American Tapestry quilt patterns from the Mary McElwain Quilt Shop in Walworth, Wisc.
As I went through these items again, I could picture Grandma doing her quilting, embroidery and mending. Grandma was small and finely built. I was taller than she was when I was only 10. I loved her fiercely, but I didn't know her well - only as well as a youngster can. Now that I'm older, I wish I had known her woman-to-woman. I'd have her show me how to do tiny quilting stitches. I'd ask her what it was like to be a farm wife, to raise three sons during the Depression and to care for her father-in-law in his last years. I'd get her recipes for ice cream and strawberry jelly and the salad she and her sister-in-law made out of dandelion greens.
A few years ago, Gaila shipped Grandma's little sewing table to her home in Bolivia. In our living room, I have an old treadle Singer sewing machine similar to Grandma's. Someday I'll make a couple of shadow boxes with the contents of Grandma's sewing bag - one for me and one for my sister.
When we die, attention is focused on big things, like the funeral. We all will have "loose ends" that won't attract much attention at the time. The unfinished projects in Grandma's sewing bag were some of hers - loose ends that 38 years later I'm tying up the best I can.