“Your mum must have thought she would live forever”, was what mum’s neighbour said to me. Hazel belonged to a Church Women’s Guild and I had offered her some of the material, wool, notions that didn’t make it into the suitcases my daughters and I were packing to take home, interstate, after my mother’s sudden and premature death.
We were sorting her belongings, coming to terms, as daughters and granddaughters do throughout the world, with our grief and loss through the handling and respecting of the things a woman had chosen, made and dreamed of creating for her family, friends and herself.
A craftswoman of necessity in the first half of her life, Sylvia’s decade of retirement from paid work was packed with projects of possibility, desire and hope.
In the weeks following her funeral I finished two cushion covers I didn’t much like, finished knitting a jumper that had been intended for one of my university-student daughters when she was about two years old and advanced some embroidery I remember my mother starting when I was around eight years old. I was obsessed with finishing her work. The sadness of a life cut short and my obligations overwhelmed me.
I bought a camphor wood chest to store the most precious things – the ones valued by my mother and those made and used by her over the years.
Into that chest also went the things I had inherited a decade before, from my mother’s mother, Nell;
crocheted hankies, milk-jug covers, knitted bedsocks, a bag of knitting needles, a tin of buttons, a needle book , thimbles - remnants of the life of a migrant woman who arrived in Australia withthe Great Depression.
The fabric, wools, threads and patterns I brought home from my mother's stash – went into the cupboards with my own similar supplies.
A couple of pieces I used immediately – made into shirts I knew I would wear for years, feeling good and nurturing memory and gratitude.
There were many times when, tempted to buy more fabric (cotton might become scarce, silk is so cheap in Vietnam) I stepped away, reminding myself of my now expanded stash and of the words of my mother’s neighbour.
It is now 17 years since my mother died. I have four grandchildren and a bit more time to spend with needles of various kinds. I have used quite a bit of my mother’s stash and had time to reflect on the role it has played in the continuity of our lives.
|The Divine Dropwaist AS&E37|
I used some lace to make the second christening dress for the twins.
I used thread in embroidering a dragon on my grandson's jeans
and a piece of viyella for a between-season dress for a granddaughter.
|Pattern from The Worlds Most Beautiful Bishops|
and smocked a dress with stars from a stripped cotton, with tiny stars in the stripes.
|from Fruit Tingle, AS&E 80|
So some of her great-grandchildren's clothing is connected in some way to my mother, whom they never met, but whose choices and inspiration contribute to their well-being. We all have glimpses of my mother in the fabric of our everyday lives.
Slowly, her stash has merged into mine. I can't always identify the origin of a component. While I try to keep my stash to manageable proportions, it doesn’t seem to diminish. I often remember Hazel’s words and ask myself, “Do you think you will live forever?” My mother’s early death is a constant reminder of the need to make the most of every day.
I am a great finisher, but now, it seems to me, less an issue that my mother died with so many projects still in the pipeline.
Perhaps that is the way of women’s lives, always creating, always conceiving, always seeing the possibilities and taking opportunities to prepare for the future, touching with our hands the raw materials of future possibilities.
I’m glad my mother had that pleasure. I’m glad to be able to pick up some of the ingredients of her dreams, add to them, and use them to create things for yet another generation. I’m glad, too, to have those worn knitting needles, thimbles and precious humble tools of my grandmother’s, testimony to what she needed to keep building her family’s future.
I try to use my stash to do justice to their legacy.