What's in Your Hope Chest?

comments (5) July 14th, 2008     

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Jen_W Jennifer Worick, contributor
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Many sentimental items from childhood can go into a hope chest for a crafters future and her future children.

Many sentimental items from childhood can go into a hope chest for a crafter's future and her future children.

Photo: Jennifer Worick

I have been thinking about hope chests recently, perhaps because a good friend is getting married. I have a chest that is a perfect size for a hope chest, refinished and given to me with love by my mother, but I’ve filled it up with mementos, things from my past. I’m now clearing it out and filling it with things I’d like—that I hope—my future to be filled with. Some items might represent success and love and peace, but I’d also like to place within it handcrafted creations to treasure and keep for the next generation.

In researching my book on prairie skills, I reread all of the Little House books. Tough research project, right? It was an absolute joy to revisit the Ingalls family, and I discovered that I remembered far more scenes and details in those books than I would have imagined.

In These Happy Golden Years, Laura marries Almanzo Wilder. In preparing to leave her family for her new married life, she gathers her belongings and she packs her hope chest. She places a quilt and various linens she’s made for married life. She wraps beloved items carefully and buries them in the folds of the fabric. When Almanzo ushers her into the house he has built for them, she is touched to find all of her treasures laid with love throughout the house. The small house, in that moment, became a home to her.

I like the idea of putting things in a hope chest that represent the future I’d like to have. For starters, I hope to have a loving, lasting relationship with a man who thinks I’m the bee’s knees. A quilt handed down from great-grandmother (by all accounts, a happily married woman) seems appropriate, but I also want a little spice with my sugar, so I add some ridiculously high-thread-count sheets in the most delicious shade of red and embroider Anaïs Nin quotes around the edges before laying the neatly folded packet gently in the chest.

I also want a child. And as someone who’s moving toward that age when childbearing becomes more challenging, I can keep hope alive in my chest. I fold up a tiny cabled cardigan of the coziest alpaca in the softest shade of green. And I place my most beloved and tattered children’s books. My Tasha Tudor book—the one where I scribbled fish throughout with crayons—and my Little House books go in. Laura would approve, I think.

I asked a few other craftanistas what they’d put in their hope chest and their responses were as creative as you’d expect:

Portland crafter and CraftyPod blogger Diane Gilleland would include a copy of the McCall's Needlework Treasury. “Even though it was published in 1964, it's still an excellent beginner's book for a whole slew of craft techniques. Besides, the photographs are so beautiful.” She’d also add “the Wedding Ring quilt top my great-great grandmother made. It's sewn entirely by hand and utterly amazing…[L]ooking at this quilt top, the product of hands that spent a lifetime making things, is a testament to the lasting value of crafting skill and creativity.”

Ann Shayne of Mason-Dixon Knitting had quite a lot to say on the subject: “My grandmother had a hope chest that, once she was married, apparently turned into a reality chest. After she passed away, my sister and I discovered that the cedar chest at the foot of her bed contained pretty much every Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass Cologne Gift Set we had ever given her. It was a lesson in not taking people too literally when they say they love Elizabeth Arden Blue Grass Cologne.

“If I view hope chests as a tender collection of Things That Might Prove Useful, then I can easily imagine cooking up a batch of things for the fellas. It would all be knitted, of course.… Of course, a hope chest is based on the premise that my child will someday live somewhere other than with me. Just moments ago, I spent a good hour unloading all the Nerf guns, Super Soaker water pistols, and giant plastic swords that filled up the toy box in the basement. A hopeless chest, now that I think about it. Maybe I should have just left all that crap right where it was, so that when the grand, exciting day arrived when the fellas set sail, I could gleefully slide that hopeless chest of junk into their U-Haul and wish them well.”

Kay Gardiner, the other half of Mason-Dixon Knitting (Mason-Dixon Knitting Outside the Lines will be published this September by Potter Craft), has her own musings on the hope chest, something she never had growing up: “My best friend in high school, Laurie Beber, presented me with a crocheted acrylic baby blanket on the birth of my first child in 1997. She proudly told me she had commissioned it to be made by Mrs. X, a famous North Omaha crocheter. ‘But she's been dead for years,’ I said. It turns out Laurie had had the blanket made in 1976. Laurie also has the two Simplicity patterns she and I had picked out for our future wedding dresses when we were in high school. She's a planner, my Laurie.

“I do not think about a hope chest for my daughter or son, but I sort of consider our apartment as their hope chest. This enables me to buy stuff I think is essential, and beautiful, and worth keeping, and convince myself that it's for them, not (just) for me. Someday, all this will be theirs: My 17 Amy Ruppel wax-coated prints of birds. And my Baccarat snail. In fact, I think I should probably get a second Baccarat snail, so they don't have to fight over the one.”

posted in: memories, hope chest

Comments (5)

Courtney Nell writes: I want a hope chest like that but am afraid my family will laugh at me. Any advice?

Posted: 8:54 pm on November 14th
Courtney Nell writes: I want a hope chest like that but am afraid my family will laugh at me. Any advice?

Posted: 8:53 pm on November 14th
SuperMarkett writes: I didn’t put together a hope chest growing up. I’d heard of them, but I just wasn’t interested. Luckily I received much of what I needed as gifts when I got married, but it still would have been so nice to have a hope chest of things I had created.
My mother in law is helping her young daughter put together a hope chest and it is so neat to watch and see what they are doing (http://missabigailshopechest.blogspot.com/). Not only are they making great items to use when she gets married, but they are making memories together as mother and daughter. I want to do this with my daughters someday.
Posted: 3:19 pm on January 4th
MaeveQ writes: OOH, your post makes me think of my grandmother's chest filled with all of her hand embroidered linens...
Posted: 2:05 pm on July 17th
craftasaurus writes: Hi, you reminded me of my own mother and her Lane hope chest. When we were little girls every now and then my mother would take us through her hope chest and we would get to re-hear all of the stories attached to the things that she kept in there. When she died a few years ago I went through that chest once again and I was so surprised to find about ten unopened bottles of her favorite perfume--all gifts from her children. I realized that in this instance the fact that they were from us is what made them so special and hope chest worthy (she had several bottles of that same perfume on her dresser and all presumably purchased by her) Going through that hope chest changed my life--I saw and held the things that endured and offered hope and I realized how the many things that I tend to worry about are really insignificant and trivial. My mother's hope chest showed me what really matters.
Thanks so much.
Posted: 1:59 pm on July 17th
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