Handknits, Heirlooms, and Memories

Like most kids I always wanted to pick up souvenirs when we would go places or do things. The urge, however, started waning before long and by the time I was in college I had scaled down most of my belongings to fit inside my two-door car. Of all my travels abroad, I pretty much only have an espresso set from Italy which I carefully brought back across the Atlantic after my first trip. I’ve saved some artwork from my kids and for each, the little tiny outfit that I brought them home from the hospital in, but that’s mostly it. I always like to say that I am a collector, but of memories, not things.

When it comes to ‘stuff’ and ‘things,’ most of what we have are hand-me-downs or furniture my dad handmade for us. We just aren’t ones to pour a ton of money into our home. Our living room furniture is from the rec room in my parents’ basement — it’s very nice, but they wanted the space for my mom’s quilting machine. The kids’ dresser is my own from my childhood. The kitchen table, my sewing table, our entertainment cabinet, and our bedside tables my dad made for us. Half the kitchen chairs are from my Grandma’s house. My dresser & the table the kids use for a desk were my Grandma’s, too. It’s a little ironic that someone who saves so little has a house full of furniture that are like souvenirs from three generations of my family.

This weekend, my parents made the trip down to our house with the new-to-me washing machine. It’s a long story as to how I acquired my parents’ ‘old’ washer (it’s only 3 or 4years old), but true to form I was happy to accept a not-quite-perfect item in lieu of having to buy brand new.  Suffice to say the bar has gotten pretty low here for washing machine expectations and I’m just relieved and elated to be able to do full-sized loads of laundry again that don’t shake the entire house when on the spin cycle. This washer is the best early Christmas gift I could have gotten! In any case, in the interest of clearing out their basement for my mom’s new quilting machine, they also brought along this.cdIt’s a cedar chest. Now the last thing I need in my tiny house is another piece of furniture, but most know that a cedar chest is as good as gold for a knitter as cedar naturally repels moths that can destroy items knit from wool. To make it even better, this isn’t just any cedar chest — it was made by my Grandpa for my Grandma (my mom’s dad) at about the time of their wedding in 1940. I had mentioned at one Christmas with my family that I would eventually love to get or make a cedar chest. A few days later on my birthday, my sister told me she wanted me to have this piece which she had previously asked to keep. And now here it is, in its new home.

I really don’t know anything about its construction, but I do know that my Granddad was relatively handy, so I assume that it was largely handmade for the most basic materials. It has some really lovely details.

cdcornerLike this corner piece…

cdsideAnd this simple handle.

And to my surprise, it contained some heirlooms…

cd spreadA bedspread my dad’s mom embroidered for me when I was little…

cdsweaterbabyA sweater knit by my dad’s sister knit for me when I was a baby…

cddotwA set of days of the week dishtowels also embroidered by my grandma.

I think the piece that gets me a little choked up is this though…

cdbook1An embroidered fabric book from my grandma that actually has my name stitched on it…

cdbookI don’t remember her making this in particular, but I remember her embroidering when I was little and even learning a bit from her. Her stitches are so neat & tidy even though she must have been at least somewhat advanced in age when she made these.

As someone who doesn’t hold on to a lot of ‘things’ like this — my initial reaction is that I have no idea what to do with these things. They are sentimental, but at the same time I just don’t hang on to things that I’m not actually using. This morning my daughter and I sifted through these heirlooms though and she was kind of wowed by them. I tucked them back in the chest.

To them, I added some of my own sweaters, including the very first thing I ever knit…

cd sweaterThis simple green cardigan was the subject of my ‘learn to knit’ class over a decade ago.

cd openFor now I just put in the sweaters that didn’t currently have a proper home, the ones I’ve been wearing most often, but there is plenty of room probably for my entire collection of knitwear. Obviously I’m ecstatic to have a place to store my knits that is safe from the dreaded possibility of moths. Even more though, in this house full of mismatched everything, of hand-me-downs and seconds this beautiful chest fits right in. And it feels just right to be the third generation to use this simple cedar chest that my Grandpa crafted nearly 75years ago to store my handknits, my heirlooms, and — in a way — my memories, too.

16 responses to “Handknits, Heirlooms, and Memories

  1. That chest is a superb example of hand craftsmanship. I can tell that the finish is super smooth just by looking at the photo! Your grandpa did a remarkable job. Even more of a treasure are the heirlooms you found inside. I don’t keep a lot of stuff either but those are ones you can share with your children and tell them the stories that go along with them.

    • So true! There are a couple little imperfections, but for a piece that is almost 75years old, it has not only been crafted very well, but it’s also been really well cared for. I am one lucky lady!

  2. What amazing family heirlooms! I love those towels and fabric book, and your Grandpa was clearly a gifted craftsman. What precious gifts they are!

    • Thank you! And you are right — I think the skills and craftsmanship of my family is a little too easy for me to overlook. Growing up with talented family like this you kind of take those skills for granted — I tend to assume everyone grew up surrounded by folks like this and that’s not necessarily the case!

  3. I love that chest. The handmade items inside were magically made by love. With love for sure, but by love too. What a wonderful new addition (and the washing machine is surely a blessing!)

    • I will say, the whole lot really reminds me of how lucky I was to grow up with such craftsmen/craftswomen in my family. And yes, being able to do a nice big load of laundry is much appreciated!

  4. I knit my twin daughters the same sweater that your dad’s sister made. Must have been a popular pattern back then, I think you are about the same age. Also, most of my furniture is hand me downs and or mismatched, I like it that way…..a story with each piece,

    • Too funny! I can only imagine the kind of similar heirloom pieces my kids and their friends will find 30years from now!

      I agree — I totally don’t mind that everything is mismatched. We like that there are stories, but it isn’t lost on us that spending less cash on those types of things when it’s possible has allowed us to spend that money in other (more fun) ways. 🙂

  5. Oh it’s beautiful! Those treasures are just lovely too. It’s a piece of your own history which is worth hanging on to. So your mother quilts?

    • So true! Yes — my mom does quilt! I actually have memories of playing under the quilting frame as a little kid. And I remember learning to sew by seaming little squares together for quilts for my mom. 🙂 In fact, she’s getting a new quilting machine this month — that’s why we had to get this stuff cleared out of her basement!

  6. Your post made me smile. Love the cedar chest! The lovely surprises inside were wonderful too. Made me think of the two cedar chests my mother has. I love opening them up and looking through all of the beautiful crocheted pieces my Grammy made. Then I thought about the embroidery I have of hers and the tablecloth I worked on under her watchful eye. So many wonderful memories.

  7. That is a beautiful piece of furniture, Sarah, and those memories it holds…wow. Someday your kids will store their treasures in it…and their kids perhaps…knitting is such a great part of the rhythm of life! Wonderful post!

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