family

Her favorite color was red

My grandmother's voice has been in my mind this week because I have been sitting at the sewing machine almost every day. She was a constant, loving presence in my childhood and may be the reason I continue to work with cloth. Here she is at her 90th birthday party in 1983, waving off the camera.

Nanny90.jpg

She - we called her Nanny - was from a big farm family with German/Luxembourgian roots that settled in Kandiohi County in western Minnesota (flat, glacial lakes, rich black soil.). (Interesting fact: kandiohi is from the Lakota language meaning "where-the-buffalo-fish-come." After that lots of Germans, Irish, Swedes and Norwegians came.) She had an 8th grade education and after that went to dressmaking school. Her sister, my great-aunt Mary, also handy with the sewing machine, made her amazing wedding gown. She married my grandpa ("Pop") in 1917.

Transient

I can evoke her presence when I call to mind her kind voice and her hands. During overnight visits, she would set me up with little sewing tasks, worked on mostly by hand, but sometimes using the old cast iron Singer with the knee pedal. There were bound buttonholes, pot holders, doll clothes. (My sisters developed great sewing skills making doll clothes.) I learned about finger-pressing - it works really well on linen!

Transient

Earth day, birch bark

When I heard it was the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, I skimmed my scanned family photos to see if I could find one from 1970. Lo and behold, I found this photo of the only family vacation we took after some of my siblings were "adults." I was 13 going on 14. This was taken in the summer of 1970, shortly after my brother Skip got back from Vietnam (he's the one in back sporting his Army hat). My dad took us (except #1 son, who was starting his career as a Prof.), to Bayfield, Wisconsin, gateway to the Apostle Islands, for a week. I remember the sailing, the fresh air, and playing (beating) my siblings at Blackjack. An earthy (and watery) crew we were.

my family in 1970

my family in 1970

This afternoon, 40 years later, I sat on my patio and stripped the windfall branches that fell from my neighbor's birch tree. Birch is supposed to yield some lovely earthy pinks, according to Jenny Dean's book, Wild Color. Over the coming weeks I'll play with this and see what happens. Still too chilly today to revisit my (2nd) vat of freeze-dried indigo.

windfall white birch branches

windfall white birch branches