I haven’t felt much like writing lately. Kind of an understatement, since I haven’t written a blog since May.

What precipitated this was a family crisis.  My grandmother passed away in August and her last year was a very hard one for my entire family. She had been very sick, and needed help to remain at home the last months of her life. So my parents took care of her as best they could, and I made time to visit as often as I could. Those visits were precious, because I could distract her from her difficulties for a few hours by talking about sewing, and she had some of her old spark back while we spoke of projects and materials and patterns.  When she died, it was a very hard thing for me. I had known her for 36 years, and to have her gone was unthinkable. I lost my sewing buddy, my teacher, my sounding board. It was a very melancholy holiday season for us this year.

We started cleaning out the house in the fall following her passing, and new worlds opened up every time I came to help for the day.  It was a huge project and is, in fact, ongoing, as we took a break for the winter since the attic isn’t heated. You just can’t properly sort books and knickknacks if your fingers are frozen together. My friends, you would  not believe what is in that house. There have been three generations of only children inheriting, from mother to daughter, and that means there is about 100 years of history there to go through. Both of my great grandmothers’ letters and family photos, doilies and a quilt. Souvenirs from China and India dating from WWII, toys from the 1950s, the oddball outdated small appliances, furniture, clothes, books, a fish tank, and other weird and wonderful stuff from bygone eras.

As we packed up her things and sorted it fell to me and my sister-in-law to take her sewing things.  Every day brought new wonders. Boxes upon boxes of patterns, thread, interfacing, lace and fabric appeared from the bedroom, the spare bedroom, and the attic. Sixty years of sewing surrounded me. Sixty years! It blows my mind, truly.

Buttons, vintage notions, and patterns from the last century.

Buttons, vintage notions, and patterns from the last century.

 My sister-in-law took a few things, like the sewing machine and table, a few patterns and other things, but the bulk of the collection went to me. I may never need to buy buttons ever again, because I have a box filled with them, many still on the cards, unused.  I have spools of thread, too,  much too old to use, but I think I can make it into a wreath with a little ingenuity.

There are handsewing needles, still rust-free after sixty years, just like it advertises on the card they came in. In fact, I used one to sew on some buttons not that long ago. I have packages of bias tape, belt buckles, and snaps in the original wrapping, unopened, from the 1960s, and some elastic from that era, still stretchy. It’s fun to see the old packaging. There’s even an envelope of appliques from the 1970s and 1980s that look familiar. I believe many were used on clothes for my brother and myself because that’s when we were toddlers.  These aren’t just some old sewing materials- this is a domestic history of my family, telling a story of children being born, growing up, and having their own children.

The greatest find without a doubt were the patterns. I found patterns from the early 1950s through the early 2000s, possibly 300 or more. In truth, I’m not sure how many, I’ve been afraid to count! This treasure trove astounded me. I had asked her once if I could go through her old patterns and she waved away my request “Oh, no, those old things. It’s too much work to get them out.” But when I saw them, oh, how I wish she had said yes! They were beautiful. I wish she could have seen how much I love them, how excited I am to have them. I oohed and aaahed my way through the patterns my grandmother bought for herself as a young woman in the 1950s and 1960s. I laughed when I saw some of the things my mom wore in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I smiled when I saw the children’s clothes from the 1980s. There are memories in these patterns, too, because as I look at them, I read her notes on the envelopes, and I recognize the designs from things my grandmother wore, things she made for my mother, and clothes I and my brother wore to school.

Some favorites from my 1950s and early 1960s box.

Some favorites from my 1950s and early 1960s box.

What amazes me is how many of them look like clothes that I’ve seen at the mall lately. Fashion truly does come in cycles. There are so many 1950s, 1960s and 1970s dresses and blouses that have modern counterparts it astounds me.   Even the 1980s is coming back, as I see blouses and sweaters that remind me of things my  mother wore when I was a kid.

The sheer volume was a little overwhelming, though, and I can’t realistically keep or make so many.  I have a huge tub, a smaller tub, and then four boxes of patterns. So I started the process of going through them, one by one, opening them, taking notes on the condition, era, size and if it’s cut or not. Believe it or not, I have found some already that were never even used! I launched a web shop on Etsy in November called Yesteryear Threads. You can see it here: 

I wanted to find news homes for these twentieth century gems, and share my lovely vintage patterns with other sewists (sewing artist- that’s not a typo, it’s a new term born online) who love the looks of the past.  I am keeping quite a few for myself, and I have plans to start making some great retro clothes from them this winter. I’ll keep you posted how it goes. In the meantime, though, I’m a busy lady! I have more projects cooking than time to do them, and if you know me in real life, you know that’s just business as usual.

My days are less gloomy now, and I’m trying to get back into life and see my friends and start moving on from grief.  I lose myself in the fabric trunk and the pattern boxes and it helps with the sadness that still tinges my days.  I think, though, grandma would be glad I am bringing her collection to others who love sewing. She would be glad I found some patterns to love and make new (old?) clothes from. She’d be amazed how many people out there are making clothes again from patterns she put away fifty, forty, and thirty years ago for being out of style. Everything old is new again…and how wonderful that is. Happy Sewing!

A vintage 1950s dress, strands of my mother's and grandmother's pearls, and a pattern from the 1960s.

A vintage 1950s dress, strands of my mother’s and grandmother’s pearls, and a pattern from the 1960s.

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