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Scheherazade in Blue Jeans
freelance alchemist
the fragility of wooden spools 
2nd-Nov-2012 06:01 pm
We went to my grandmother's house today. We started off in a frenzy of tearing labels off pill bottles and dumping all the pills in a bag for disposal, trashing half-eaten food products and bagging unopened goods for donation. Then we moved on to drifting through rooms, opening drawers. Mom showed my aunt and me where the costume jewelry was. "If you want anything, take it."

And this became a litany for my mom: "What do you want?" "What do you want?" "What do you want?"

And aii, Mom, I don't know; it's hers. I know she's not alive anymore, but it's hers, that Wyrding Studios pendant is hers, everything is hers.

Then I thought of something. "Mom, I know this is weird. But if you find any buttons..."


"Yeah. They're used as an accent in a lot of knitting projects, like on a hat or up the side of fingerless mitts. So, just, if you find a stash of buttons, a button bag or jar or whatever, I'd like that. I could have the buttons on a hat or something and remember her when I wear it."

My aunt said, "You could go in the closet and cut them off of the clothes," and I gave her A LOOK, because oh my god. No. We are donating the clothes, surely. We must be. I am not cutting the buttons off of clothes and rendering them unusable.

Mom said, "Did she have a sewing kit?"

And there, on a shelf in the closet, was a little wicker basket with a broken latch. I opened it and - yes. Buttons! Button motherlode.

And. Oh my.

"These are old spools of thread," I mused as I lifted them off the buttons. And then I realized how old they were. Tiny wooden spools! And I lifted the top tray and looked beneath, and could not stop saying "oh my god" for several minutes.

Packets of snaps and hook and eye closures marked 5 cents apiece. Packets of needles from Woolworth in New York, and a pack of Army/Navy sewing needles. So many wooden spools. Mom had never seen this kit. Grandma only rarely used it.

I think this kit dates back to World War II. It's a time capsule.

Delicate packets of needles wrapped in tissue paper, thimbles, cheap satin pincushion.

Time capsule.

"We can mail that to you," Mom said. They were watching me unfold the Woolworth's packet, marvel at the heft of the antique spools, and everybody knows that no one else in the family will ever pick up a needle and thread. My sister gets the furniture (with one exception), my aunt gets the dishes.

I get the sewing kit.

From the costume jewelry drawer, I picked a 1940s gold branch-shaped brooch that will live on my winter coat, and an MTA token that my grandmother, who moved from New York in the 1950s, saved all these years. I gave kythryne a Boston T token to make into a piece for me a while back, but never finished commissioning the piece. Now I know why - it needed my grandmother's MTA token.
2nd-Nov-2012 10:20 pm (UTC)
My grandmother had a button box. When I was a little girl we built fantasy cities out of dominoes and fancy buttons. The button box is one of the things I got when my father cleaned out her house and sold it. (She'd had Alzheimer's for a while at that point and went to live with my aunt and uncle when my grandfather died.)
2nd-Nov-2012 10:27 pm (UTC)
I know how it drove me mad when my Dad died, and we did the same sort of stuff with his clothing and possessions. I'm glad that you found something meaningful for you.

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3rd-Nov-2012 12:42 am (UTC)
I know the magic of the button box.
3rd-Nov-2012 12:43 am (UTC)
We have the sewing kit of my grandmother who died before I was born. It's also a kind of a time capsule.

Edited at 2012-11-03 12:43 am (UTC)
3rd-Nov-2012 12:48 am (UTC)
We went through something similar when my Dad's Mom died. The only things I wound up taking were a giant snifter filled with matchbooks from her/our travels and a pair of vintage black gloves that only fit me. I had already been given one of her dresses and a coat to match, and I wear the ensemble occasionally and think of her whenever I open the closet.
3rd-Nov-2012 12:53 am (UTC)
This is beautiful.

I treasure my grandma's knitting bag and bakelite needles. :-)
3rd-Nov-2012 03:18 am (UTC)
I am tearing up because when my grandmother died, that was the thing I wanted the most--her button tin. I used to dump it out and play with all the buttons.
I have it now. Some of them are decaying to dust, but I have the tin and buttons. I haven't made anything for them yet, but I will, soon.


The hands stitch stories and mend the heart. And the heart remembers.

3rd-Nov-2012 03:31 am (UTC)
What a great find. At least it's a comfort in the midst of sadness.

My grandmother was a hoarder, so my experience with this involved a lot of just dragging tons of stuff out of her apartment and putting it in the dumpster. But there were some things worth keeping, and I got all of her old audio tapes. These included recorded love letters that she and her "shweet-haht" in Germany sent back and forth to each other in the 1960s, plus a recording of me and my older sister performing skits for her in 1979.
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3rd-Nov-2012 02:27 pm (UTC)
What a find! And a lovely way to stay connected to her. There's something about inherited tools, especially (IMO) the ones used for "women's work", that makes you feel connected to the whole long tradition of sewing/knitting/$craft.

I was hoping to claim some of my grandmother's crafting supplies - mainly paintbrushes and knitting needles, which she used to make gifts for my brother and I when we were kids - but my grandfather got rid of all of her things pretty quickly. I guess he didn't want to be reminded.
3rd-Nov-2012 02:28 pm (UTC)
Whoops, that was not meant to be a reply to you. This is why one should not do LJ before coffee.
3rd-Nov-2012 05:38 pm (UTC)
all grandmas have button collections it seems.  i thought it was nuts that my grandmother had ths box full of buttons.  but now I find tgat I have my own collection.  its a good pass down.
5th-Nov-2012 05:44 pm (UTC) - My mom had similar supplies
Right down to the needles wrapped in tissue paper. I think I still have some of that, should you find you want more.
5th-Nov-2012 06:53 pm (UTC)
I inherited my recently deceased Grandma's button collection, as well as her sewing and embroidery supplies. I'm adding to the button collection as well as using from it, and every time I open the box to add or take I can't help but think of her.
6th-Nov-2012 08:54 pm (UTC)
*nodnodnod* I am so completely with you.

My grandmother's button tin, her sewing machine, and most of her old sewing accoutrements are mine now. I honor her memory with every use.

I can't bear to throw away some old patterns she had, even though she was waaaay smaller than I am. :) Same with the accessory kit from her very old electric Singer that she got rid of (OMG I cried a little when I heard she let the repairman keep it because it would "cost more to fix than to buy a new one") (don't get me started on how the bastard probably fixed it and sold it for a mint, because it was in otherwise pristine shape) -- it's essentially useless, but it means so much and brings back so many memories. I learned to sew on that machine.
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