The year I turned nine and my sister turned seven, my parents invited my mother’s entire extended family to our house for Christmas. They planned it well in advance, and my mother decided that my sister and I should use the time to make stockings for everyone for Christmas. With Mom’s gentle, insistent guidance we cut out, decorated and hand stitched seventeen red felt stockings – each with the name of an aunt or uncle and one for Grandma and Grandpa. We didn’t know it at the time, but she wasn’t just teaching us to sew. She was teaching us about giving.
The family didn’t hold back on their praise of our work, but Grandma had outdone us, as we knew she would. Her Christmas creations were legendary. One year she had made life-sized stuffed dolls with snaps on the hands and toes that we could use to create all sorts of crazy shapes. Another year she sent cross stitch pictures to celebrate us getting our own rooms. And on each creation she would sew a label that sad ‘Made Especially for You by KVK’.
This Christmas she brought two large crochet afghans big enough to cover a full-size bed. Each blanket was made using our favorite color, and they quickly became our favorite wrap for watching TV or snuggling under the covers. The afghans also sparked my curiosity about how they were made. Grandma tried to get us started on crocheting that Christmas, but it took a few more years before either of our fingers were dextrous enough to let the lessons sink in.
It was only when our Grandparents moved to the same city as our parents that I discovered how much my Grandmother’s enjoyed creating these treasures – many of which I still have. My mother was (and still is) an expert seamstress and had made many of our clothes growing up, and, while both my sister and I did learn to sew (my sister’s expertise is pretty close to my mom’s), I loved the needlework.
For years I kept at least one project going, occasionally finishing one here and there, but my needlework projects were mostly fits of inspiration born of a visit to Grandma or Germany, where most girls still learned to knit at the time. But it wasn’t until just recently that the lesson my mom started teaching us all those years ago really sunk in.
We had recently moved to Vermont, and I had fallen in with a couple of quilters at my new job. My new employer was constantly offloading small samples of fabric from discarded product lines, and like a moth to a flame, I made sure nothing went to waste (Quilt fabric is officially more addicting than alcohol and nicotine combined). My first idea was to make a quilt for The Big Guy. I cut and pieced and cut and quickly realized I had bit off a little more than I could chew. That project still awaits completion, but I did manage to finish another quilt that had developed simultaneously.
Soon after my quilting addiction began, my mother was made president of the Ohio Academy of HIstory. The news came shortly before her birthday, and I decided to make her an Ohio star quilt. I gave it to her when we were all on vacation together, and it was the first time in my life I had made something like that for my mother (not counting Kindergarten clay ashtrays for a woman who never smoked), and when she cried, I began to understand what it meant to really give something of oneself.
We still buy presents for each other, but since then I’ve made a monster scarf for The Big Guy, hunting-colored scarves for the kids, and an afghan for Thing2 (Thing1’s specifications are still being sorted out). And when I finally get that first quilt spread out on The Big Guy’s side of the bed, it won’t have a label on it, but we will both know that it was made especially for him and no one else.