Grandma and the Beautiful Button Hat

comments (9) March 16th, 2009     

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Jen_W Jennifer Worick, contributor
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Just a few buttons I spied at the Nifty Thrifty Dry Goods booth at the recent Puyallup Sewing & Stitchery Expo.

Just a few buttons I spied at the Nifty Thrifty Dry Goods booth at the recent Puyallup Sewing & Stitchery Expo.

Photo: Jennifer Worick

As we celebrate Susan Beal’s beautiful, inventive book, Button It Up, I can’t help but think of my Grandma Worick. She was a farmwife and serious crafter, sewing clothes, braiding rag rugs, and making all sorts of dear items out of very little.

And she was a serious hoarder. I absolutely adored rifling through her closet, her giant trash bag of fabric scraps, and the little jewelry boxes stuffed into the third drawer of her bureau. But most of all, I loved poking around in the attic.

My grandpa’s World War I helmet was stuck up there, as were various pieces of old furniture and boxes. Perched on one box was a wide-brimmed black velvet hat.

On its own, it was simply resplendent. But Grandma used the chapeau as a way to store her best buttons. Sparkly rhinestones winked at me, regal jet buttons held court, and carved abalone rimmed the brim. I was just enchanted, both by the array of buttons sewn all over the hat as well as by Grandma’s clever showcase.

It was Grandma who taught me how to first thread a needle. I would accompany her to the fabric store, fascinated by the giant Butterick pattern books and vertical filing cabinets. While Grandma was busy rooting out bargain fabric and thread, I was looking at lame animal and doll patterns that were printed on fabric. All I had to do was cut out the patterns, sew the pieces together, and stuff them with batting. Even making such a simple stuffed animal/pillow was a bit beyond my skill set. I tried but I was more interested in my Betty & Veronica comics than I was in sewing and other traditional crafts.

Grandma had an ancient treadle sewing machine that sat in her bedroom. When my brother John was finally drawing a paycheck in the Navy, he bought my grandmother a newfangled sewing machine. When she passed away, we found the machine still in the box. While I’m sure she was touched by such a generous gift, she was of the mind that if it ain’t broke, don’t replace it.

When she tried to bust out the crochet needles with me during a particularly bad blizzard, I figured out how to do a simple chain—my yarn was a godawful tube of baby pink, baby blue, and white variegated yarn I thought was the bee’s knees—but I couldn’t quite get the hang of turning it around. So I turned to other crafts. I helped Mom with her decoupage and ceramics projects. I made a passel of friendship bracelets. I macraméd an Easter basket. It was the '80s and I had questionable taste.

I regret that I didn’t learn to knit, crochet, and sew from Grandma. She taught me so many things, but I waited until she was gone and I was well into adulthood to pick up these crafts. But that button hat, that I fawned over and loved at first sight.

What did you learn from your grandmother? 
What notions, materials, or craft supplies were you drawn to as a child?

In the future, you can find me at my website or blogs, Things I Want to Punch in the Face and Prairie Tales. My new book, Backcountry Betty: Crafting with Style, is in stores now.

posted in: fabric, buttons, notions, family, grandma

Comments (9)

Pinky57 writes: My mother and my grandmother both sewed. My grandmother made pajamas for all the grandkids each Christmas (16 grand kids). My mother taught me to sew by hand at age 3 by 8 my grandmother taught me to not only use the sewing machine, but she taught me to make patterns using newspapers. My grandmother died when I was 12, but I still have some things from her sewing room, including a sewing book that was hers as a young child, it has her name scrawled in her childlike way. I went on to get a degree in fashion design. One of my favorite items though is a handmade "book" made out of homespun type fabric, each page holds samples of hand made lace either crocheted or tatted. The book belonged to my great grandmother. A few years back, at the young age of 78, my mother finally retired from doing alterations, and she has given me all her industrial equipment. Now I am opening my own sewing and alteration shop to carry on the tradition so ingrained in my heritage.
Posted: 11:29 am on April 7th
susanstars writes: oh, I can picture that amazing button-covered hat, Jennifer!

Like other folks have said, I really wish I had learned to sew from my grandmother but she passed away when I was 12 and just a little bit too young to sit down at the machine with her. She made me the sweetest things and I still have three of the bias-tape-tie sundresses she made me in the fabrics I picked out - I'm saving them for my daughter, Pearl. I also have some of her half-finished needlepoint that I hope to complete some day.

Pam, I'm so sad that you weren't able to keep that marvelous button collection for you and Diane, but luckily you've been able to pass on so many crafty gifts to her :)
Posted: 12:54 am on March 24th
Chricynthia writes: Both of my grandmothers were extremely talented. One would make coats for all the girls in the family (and there were plenty) just by looking at us and it would fit perfect. Our parents didn't need to buy us girls coats for many years as she was a wonderful tailor. My other grandmother did the best in sewing, crocheting and tatting. Unfortunate for me we were to be seen and not heard and never learned from them. I so wish those days were back and I would beg to learn from them both. But I do have one of my grandmother's button stash and my mother's who passed recently. Yes, I am a button freak and proud of it.
Posted: 9:05 am on March 22nd
shawndra writes: When I was young My Grandma and Mom made all of our school clothes,She did not teach me anything about sewing however she made pillows and pillow cases for all the newborns in the family,I have taken it upon myself to continue this tradition since her passing.
Posted: 1:54 pm on March 21st
PamHarris writes: Your button collection touched my heart and got my attention! I am sure there are three that for sure were in my great grandmother's velvet bag of buttons saved from every dress she or any other family member ever owned. She would pull it out of her trunk and allow me to play with it, sorting, touching,re-sorting for hours on end. One of my greatest regrets has been that the button collection was not seen as being of any value when she passed and so it was not retained in the family.I was devastated when I found out it was gone. I would give almost anything to have been able to pass that on to Diane.
Posted: 12:54 pm on March 21st
BeadStyle_Stacy writes: First off, let me say that your grandmother would be so proud to know that you have made a career out of the crafts that were her hobbies! Talk about a newfangled idea...

My grandma made elaborate quilts of her own design with whimsical themes: dinosaurs, motorized transportation, sheep, butterflies...The animal-themed ones she sometimes donated to our local zoo to be auctioned off. She didn't teach me how to quilt (she taught my mom who taught me), but she did teach me that something as functional as a blanket could also be art as well as a vehicle for charitable support.

Posted: 10:15 am on March 19th
djsloan writes: I love this story! I remember going through my grandmas sewing treasures too. I may just make a button hat of my own!
Posted: 5:22 pm on March 17th
janetdawson writes: My gramma taught me to knit. :) She was a fabulous knitter – made all kinds of fiendishly complicated cabley things, and colour patterns and stuff I still can't ever see myself knitting. She was a lefty, which made it difficult for me to copy what she was doing, and I didn't really get into knitting until someone else taught me the Continental method years later, but I still consider Gramma as the source of all things fibery in my life. :) I inherited all her knitting needles and old pattern books as well – have been eyeing all the clever things people are doing with vintage patterns lately and thinking that might be a fitting way to use them.

Gramma also started weaving in her 70s; although she didn't teach me to weave (I didn't learn until years later), I'm sure having her little loom around the house filtered through my subconscious to some degree. At the time I thought weaving was boring – it was all BROWN (Gramma loved neutral tones and natural fibres) and I was 13 so if things weren't purple and turquoise they weren't pretty. ;) Now, years later, I find myself weaving with brown a whole lot more than purple, and weaving much the same kinds of things that Gramma did when I was a kid. I sure wish she was still around to compare notes with! I'll always be really glad that the first thing I ever wove was a present for her (in purple and turquoise, come to think of it!) and that she knew she'd passed on one more great craft to me.

Thanks for the happy jaunt down memory lane!
Posted: 10:01 am on March 17th
JennieC writes: My Grandma taught me to crochet. It took me awhile to get the hang of turning around, too. :)
Posted: 10:06 pm on March 16th
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