My grandmother’s voice has been in my mind this week because I have been sitting at the sewing machine almost every day. She was a constant, loving presence in my childhood and may be the reason I continue to work with cloth. Here she is (wearing her favorite color) at her 90th birthday party in 1983, waving off the camera.
She – we called her Nanny – was from a big farm family with German/Luxembourg roots that settled in Kandiohi County in western Minnesota (flat, glacial lakes, rich black soil.). (Interesting fact: kandiohi is from the Lakota language meaning “where-the-buffalo-fish-come.” After that lots of Germans, Irish, Swedes and Norwegians came.) She had an 8th grade education and after that went to dressmaking school. Her sister, my great-aunt Mary, also handy with the sewing machine, made her amazing wedding dress. She married my grandpa (“Pop”) in 1917.
I can evoke her presence when I call to mind her kind voice and her hands. During overnight visits, she would set me up with little sewing tasks, worked on mostly by hand, but sometimes using the old cast iron Singer with the knee pedal. There were bound buttonholes, pot holders, doll clothes. (My sisters developed great sewing skills making doll clothes.) I learned about finger-pressing – it works really well on linen!