When I first started this Blog back in May 2010 I wrote about how I had been inspired to take up sewing by my Grandmother. She turned 90 in June - still knitting and sewing. At the end of the summer she suffered from a stroke and declined rapidly. She passed away in mid-November and today we said goodbye.
My Dad asked me if I would like to say a few words about her legacy of sewing.
Had I been talking to you two months ago, I would have told you how lucky you were that you would get to meet two of your great-grandparents. In case you haven’t noticed in between your bouts of gymnastics, this is the second funeral that you and I have been to in as many months. In October we said goodbye to your Great-Grandad, Tommy, and today we are saying good-bye to your Great-Granny Joy. But on reflection, this makes you no less lucky. Although these two people, and those to whom we have already said good-bye, are no longer with us in body, the memories of them that your parents and grandparents, Aunts and Uncles still have and the legacy they left will always be a part of your life.
The legacy left by Granny Joy is a tangible, every-day one. As long as I can remember, Granny embroidered, knitted, crocheted, made lace and dolls and teddy bears and generally did a lot of crafting. Although Granny and Granddad Tom lived in a small two bedroom cottage in Datchworth, this did not stop her collecting wool, fabric, threads, teddy bear joints, buttons, ribbons, magazines – the list goes on, and I certainly remember it being endless when they moved away from Datchworth and the family helped empty the back bedroom, the caravan and the sewing shed which Granddad had built Granny in the garden!
At the time of the move from Datchworth to Puckeridge in 1996, I was just 11 years old and I remember the excitement of being given old cross stitch magazines and little cover kits, and even an old sewing machine. Because by age 11, Granny had already passed on to me her love of working with a needle and thread.
My first memories of sewing are in Granny and Granddad’s living room at Datchworth – a long stitch kit of a ginger cat, followed by a long stitch kit of a goldfish. This was followed by more long stitch kits and eventually plastic canvas. And although I must have done sewing at home as well, all of these early sewing memories are at Datchworth with Granny. I remember one day getting a real ticking off from Granddad Tom – I’d been sewing a plastic canvas farm in peach and white wool in the garden, and when I came in the flowers near where I had been sewing were covered in the ends of the wool I had trimmed away! Perhaps my habit of turning up to work now in clothes covered in bits of thread is a legacy Granny could have kept to herself!
Her legacy does not just stop with the family: during the mid 1990s she spent many hours recreating a banner for Letchworth Morris Men: the original banner can be found in the Letchworth museum and dates to the 1920s when Letchworth Morris Men were first formed. Using various techniques ranging from applique, to embroidery and couching she hand stitched a brand new banner which is still in use by the side today.
Granny was an avid member of the WI, taking part in many competitions and crafting activities, but she also gave talks to other WI groups. She had two talks: the first based on a collection of dolls she had made inspired by fairy stories – the doll representing sleeping beauty was a beautiful fairy holding a baby, but which could be turned inside out to show a witch holding the baby. The second talk, again based on her own handmade dolls, was a journey through British custom, legend and tradition.
As Granny became older, she continued her love of handicrafts: knitting, cathedral window patchwork, and making patchwork teddy bears and outfits (including underwear) for her growing collection of shop-bought teddy bears. Right up until the day she fell ill, Granny was still crafting. On the day she passed away, the sewing machine she gave me back in 1996 was out and running, continuing that legacy.
But this wonderful legacy was not just passed on to me: I can’t knit or crochet a stitch – for that, as well as beautiful embroidery, you will need to speak to your Aunty Catherine!
My love of sewing is perhaps one of the greatest gifts I have received and one that is now a part of my identity, and this is something for which I am grateful every single day. Granny Joy was just one of the people who you will never get to meet, but who will influence your life as you grow and develop an identity and a legacy of your own.
So, Baby, when you are desperately trying to fall asleep, and all you can hear is the constant whirring of the sewing machine, just remember – it’s Granny Joy’s fault!