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Sunday, December 30, 2012

What's Your Craft Legacy?

What's your craft legacy?  Have you ever really thought about it?  Who or what in your memories or in your childhood influenced you to create?  It may have been your parents, your aunt, or uncle, or your elementary school art teacher...someone inspired you to create...to make "something out of nothing."  

I come from a long line of "makers" all of whom influenced me in some way.  Until a generation ago, we were farmers and crafts people.  One of my greatest "influencers" was my great grandmother.  

Born in 1889, my great grandmother lived in a time and place where "making" was a necessity. Nearly every piece of clothing, every curtain, anything that was used in the home was made by hand.  She was skilled in sewing, lace-making, crocheting, and quilting, Bertha Isabelle Gray-Stone was an accomplished crafter. 

Photographed here on the farm in Kentucky in November of 1918 with her children and her sister Ivy, it's likely that she sewed most of the clothing for everyone in the photo.  And typically, those clothes were handed down to the younger ones in the family...and after those clothes no longer fit anyone in her growing family, they were relegated to a bin to be cut up for quilts. 

She quilted throughout her nearly 100 year life and created a body of work in quilts that tells her family story, stitch by stitch and piece by piece. 

  During the summer, tending the garden and preserving food was the priority.  Winter was the quilting season.  Every year, Bertha and her sisters and daughters cut 1000's of pieces of scraps to be sewn together and quilted. Some of my earliest memories of visiting my great grandmother are of sitting around, with piles of fabric, cutting and piecing.  And often, they let me cut pieces to be quilted.  Small geometric paper patterns were pinned to fabric pieces to be cut out.  After the pieces were cut, they were stacked into neat piles of pieces that were later hand pieced together.  Sometimes I was allowed to cut,other times I got to count...and there were usually 300 or more pieces per pile.  After the required number of pieces were cut, the stitching and piecing began.  Each piece, sewn by hand, was joined to another piece, creating larger blocks that would eventually be sewn together, kind of like a family that expands and grows with each marriage and birth. After a careful study to determine which colors and patterns looked best side by side, blocks were laid out and the quilt design was developed. As I remember long discussions about which blocks to place together, and usually each was placed beside another that told a story of  family memories.  After the blocks were pieced together, large quilting frames were set up, and then the hand quilting began.  It was a a long process to quilt by hand and often neighbor ladies or friends from church would come to make the work go faster.  In turn, great grand mother would lend a hand when her friends were quilting their quilts.  I remember running around, and under the frames and getting in trouble for it more than once.  

Over the years, my great grandmother built up quite a collection of quilts.  She gave quilts as wedding and birthday presents and bestowed them on her children and grandchildren as they married and set up housekeeping on their own.  And to this day, family quilts are still used in my parents home...it's a comforting link to our collective history to rest under the warmth of these family treasures.
In the mid 1980's, as my great grandmother approached her 100th birthday, someone in our family had the presence of mind to document her quilt collection with photos.  The quilts were hung on lines between her house and the smokehouse and photographed.

Luckily, I discovered the photos in a box of photos over the holidays and scanned them so we'd have a digital record too.  Seeing the photographs after many years, made me think about my craft legacy and the influence my great grandmother had in making me a crafter.  Not only did I learn some technical skills like cutting and hand-stitching, but I learned lessons in composition and color compatibility too. And more importantly, I learned that objects and materials can be re-purposed and given a different life or use than that for which they were originally intended.  That's very important fodder for an artist; the ability to see beyond.

Photographed here when she was nearly 100 years old, my great grandmother stands in front of nearly a century of handmade family history, documented by small pieces of fabric that were lovingly selected, cut and stitched by together one piece at a time. My craft legacy is rich one; a legacy that reaches back a century, and influences me every day. I think it's the reason I love to distress surfaces, use old-fashioned techniques like accordion folding and quilling, and find ways to use vintage photos in my art. It's a connection I feel to my personal and family history. 

Have you ever asked yourself, "what is my craft legacy?" 
Who influenced you to create?  I would love to hear your answers and why....while our individual stories and legacies will all be different, we're all connected by the innate human need to create.  

Go make it a great day...create something!



  1. Ken, what a wonderful story! Your family history and legacy are so rich and warm ... as I read your words I felt like one of those quilts was wrapped around me, warming my heart! I also have a rich legacy! Some of my earliest memories are of my Mama 'playing' with me. For 6 years I was an only child and Mama didn't drive back then, so she would spend hours helping me make things to play with ... we were also dirt poor! She taught me to make paper dolls from the Sears catalog photos, and furniture for them from my Dad's uniform shirt cardboard. (He drove a gas truck.) She also taught me to sew and garden and so many other things.

    One thing that many don't think about as a 'craft' is cooking, but cooking is truly a creative outlet for me. Mama began letting me sit on the counter beside where she was working and 'help' at a very early age. By the time I was 10 I was making cookies and cakes from scratch with no help at all. If we had a 'bake sale' at school, she would tell me "you know where everything is, just clean up your mess!" and off I would go to the kitchen to make a pound cake or some chocolate chip cookies. Because of that I still enjoy cooking, and frequently try out some idea that is in my head without thought of a recipe. I love just throwing things together to see how they come out. Sometimes not so great, but others ... I have an amazing dish!

    But then there was MY great grandmother! My dad's mother's mother was known to everyone for miles around as 'Ma Cook', and she was loved by everyone who knew her. She and 'Dad' had four children, seven grand children, and multitudes of great grand children, and every Christmas she insisted on giving each one a gift. I honestly don't remember what she gave the males in the family, but the girls may have gotten a dress for themselves or a doll dress (I still have one she made me about 55 years ago)and women got pot holders or dish cloths or maybe a hand made photo album full of old family pictures, pictures from church bulletins, articles from the newspaper and poems or hymns. I am so fortunate to have two of these albums ... one she made for me and one that my grandmother, her daughter, gave to me before she died.

    But Ma Cook also left me another legacy. She was known for her flower arranging for our church. I remember many times when Mama and I would go get her and take her riding around the community to church members' homes to pick flowers and then watch her make arrangements for the alter at our church. No florist could ever have topped some of the arrangements she made. And everything she did, Ma did with joy and a smile. She was a devout Christian lady who cherished her bible and shared the love of Jesus with everyone she met. Now, that's not saying she was perfect ... because she was known to have a temper, but she did a great job of keeping it in check.

    Like you, I have so many stories and love opportunities like this to pull them out and lovingly polish those memories! Thanks for what you are doing to help others bring out their memories and maybe pass them on to others. ♥ Becky

    1. Hey Becky, wow...thank you for sharing your legacy...it's amazing and similar to mine...there are lots of similarities, making things with cut outs from the Sears Catalogue,handmade gifts, gardening and cooking...all sound very similar, but, we are both from the south. :) You have a marvelous treasury in the memorabilia you have saved. Thank you again for sharing your amazing legacy...it makes you the wonderful artist you are today. Ken

  2. The quilt photos and story is near and dear to my heart! I grew up with my mother making every stitch I wore.... I remember the conversation mom had with my dad sitting at the table, she said something along the lines of buying me store bought...I had NEVER heard that term previously! My parents grew up during the depression, so there was nothing ever thrown away. Both parents came from large families that lived on farms and usually did some other work for additional income as well. My mother was the main source of my creative - I can do THAT... thinking. She made everything she ever wanted. She made my doll dresses until I was able to make my own. She arranged all of the floral arrangements in our home with either flowers from the yard or (fake). She wallpapered, painted, helped put together a hutch from a kit (my dad thought he should help...) Together they installed a 'brick' wall in the kitchen. It never occurred to me that is was not the 'norm' When I decided I wanted to sew myself a dress- I announced to mom, "I want to make a dress." She found fabric from her stash-from a men's underwear factory sold by the pound... and I selected a princess seamed pattern which had been used previously (but not by a total novice!) and I made the dress. I didn't wear it due to the fabric....but it was for practice. I had a very strong interest in cooking at a very young age as well. Mom told the story many times about me pulling a chair up to the stove so I could see what I was doing. She said she tried and tried to keep me from doing it, but I was determined. Determined I was, by the time I was in second grade mom worked in my uncles bakery, and my elementary school did not serve lunch. Kids walked home, so I would beat my mom home and have lunch prepared, the table set with her good table cloth and fine china as we ate either grilled cheese, hamburgers, or similar food. She really got a kick out of me doing this as she told the story over and over. Mom never told me no, when I wanted to try something in the kitchen or on a craft project. If I tried a recipe and it failed, then she showed me how to fix it. The DIY'ers of today crack me up when they are showing how they transform various items with spray paint, or covering with fabric... really- I lived that way 40+ years ago. The organic movement- yeah, we had a huge garden at our house in town, and a larger one at the home of my parents friends in the country. Canning, freezing, preserving is hard work at times, but the satisfaction and taste can't be beat. Oh, mind you I hated having to sit and break beans, cut corn etc etc AT THE TIME, but now looking back, it was some of the best experience I ever received. I hopefully passed most of what I was taught on to my children. My dd1 was asked by her husband, "HOW do you know how to do all these things?" She said because I did them all my life!

    My mom didn't push me to do any of the things I love to do today, but she sure was proud when I finished a project, or won an award no matter the 'craft' cooking, art, sewing. Sorry this is SO long, but I got going and kept remembering more 'stuff'!!!! The best part is I feel I have instilled in my children, 'I can do that'. :)

    1. Thank you Sara...I love the "I can do that" theme to your history. I think we all share that too...the ability to see something and bam the light bulb goes off followed by the thought, "I can do that" Like you... I snapped a lot of beans and shelled a lot of peas, and I am glad I did...what great memories. Thank you for sharing your handmade heritage!

  3. What a lovely story and heritage.
    My inspiration was my mother, who was the third child of 9 children and grew up without much. Of course, everyone learned how to sew and knit and everything was home-made!! I am the third daughter and when my two older sisters were in school, my mom was knitting a pair of gloves from beautiful pearl-gray fingering yarn. I guess I wanted to do this so badly, that my grandfather (dad's dad) took a double-pointed knitting needle, hacksawed it in half and put rubber bands on each end. My mom immediatly taught me to knit. At the time, we had 27 Ginny dolls (6" dolls) all dressed and under the Christmas tree. They ALL lacked shoes. Mom taught me how to knit slippers (about 1 inch long) and I made 27 pairs of slippers for all of those dolls from a small ball of that same perl-gray fingering yarn she was using. I turned 2 three days after that Christmas. As a teenager, mom and I learned all kinds of things like jewelry making and ceramics. She taught me to sew when I was 9. My sewing machine is never closed up now! I learned how to crochet from her, too. When I was making a crocheted afghan for the foot of my bed, she admired it and wanted the pattern. About 2 weeks later, she came to me and told me she couldn't figure out what she was doing wrong because she couldn't get past the first 2 rows. I laughed at her and told her that I really shouldn't tell her the secret - I FINALLY HAD HER STUMPED!!!! At the time she was 72 years old!!! We laughed about that until her death at age 76. I know I gathered all my crafty genes from my mom. Even though I have 6 living siblings, I am the only one who does everything - knit, sew, crochet, basket weave, re-upholster, jewelry making, scrapbooking. I have a home-based daycare after 25 years of working outside the home, and make all the kidlets whatever they want to be for Halloween. They all get hand woven Easter baskets. My sisters all dabble in one or two things, but I feel fortunate to have had my mother's blessing to do all that I could do. When she passed away, I was the only one who wanted all of her knitting needles. One sister who quilts, got most of her fabric, but I got all of her basketweaving supplies!! She left me one of her small wing chairs and the upholstery wore out, so it graces my living room with beautiful tapestry upholstery in the colors of my living room and it brings her to mind every time I sit in that chair. It was not a hard job to re-upholster it, but it sure was a labor of love.
    She taught me to cook as a youngster. Having had eight childre, she rested a lot and I would run from the stove to the couch to find out what to do next. I have a group of women who come to my home to crop once a month and they all want me to cook dinner. I have never had anyone turn anything away!
    I was not fortunate to have children of my own to pass these abilities along, but I know that there are many children who have had my care over the past 17 years that have a collection of costumes and baskets that Frannie made for them as little ones. I have one former client for whom made all the drapes for their daughter's room. When I went to hang them up, the 9 year old was so proud of her new room. She showed me her big walk in closet and when I asked what the small door at the side of the closet was, she smiled and said, "That's my costume closet." When she opened it up, there was every costume I had ever made for her from the age of 12 months right on up to age 10. I felt so honored.
    I'm confident some of my daycare kidlets will have picked up some of my talents along the way.

    1. Fran, what a wonderful legacy. I knew you were quite the crafter. The stories you share are heartwarming. Amazing that you and your mother shared the love of knitting and "making" throughout your lives. And, I love that you share your art with the "kidlets" at your day care...for the past 17 years, you have influenced and inspired an entire generation of young crafters. what a beautiful legacy!

  4. Hey Ken. For me, I remember my father drawing and painting, whne I was a child, and my grandmother doing embroidery and needlepoint. That got me interested in crafts quite a bit.
    For me crafting was always about creating what I couldn't afford to purchase myself.
    My grandmother was an amazing cook, and would sit me down in the kitchen, so I could watch her and "learn to cook for my future husband" she'd tell me.
    I loved to watch her cook. Her face would light up, she'd sing, and was just truly happy in the kitchen cooking.
    That's what I love.
    I remember when my mom was going to college at night, I'd watch my father bake bread from scratch. At the time, cable tv was not what it is today. If it was, I doubt that I'd have this happy memory since my father is major couch potato! HAHA
    Anyway, baking breads from a cookbook he got at a yard sale, he would bake braided breads, and amazing artisan breads. These memories are what kept me creative.
    I love to bake and cook now. I pass on the happy memories of baking to my daughters.
    Art is something I came to on my own, no one taught me about art or crafts.
    When my daughter was about 3 or so, she'd come up and stand next to me, at my workspace, and I decided to give her some paints and things. So we've always made art together.
    That's my legacy, I suppose.