Heirloom Embroidery: Honoring my grandmother by finishing what she started 15+ years ago
I finally put needle to fabric on a project that has been in my “to do” bin since October. Before my grandmother’s Alzheimer’s kept her from her daily activities, she started a very large, floral embroidery project.
This project looked like the beginnings of a quilt with 20 individual sections and I think she meant to embroider a flower in each. She had only started five of those sections. Each of those five sections had been carefully outlined with a three strand stem stitch. Each section is about 8” x 8” so with 20 sections total of 32” x 40” approximately.
After both my grandmother and grandfather died in October of 2018, my mother and aunt went through the house and found this project and it was given to me. I am the only of her five grandchildren that has picked up embroidery as an adult. I don’t have many memories of seeing my grandmother embroider. I knew she had a magical closet filled to the bring with every sewing material imaginable. I remember looking through it with her as a young girl. She had a desk just for the sewing machine and lots of drawers filled with needles, thread, bias tape, zippers, and more.
I am unsure of how long ago she started this project. Most of my memories of my grandmother over the past decade are of watching her suffer as her Alzheimer’s continued to progress. Based on the aging of the fabric and thread, I would guess this was something that was started at least 15 years ago - when I was 11. However, it could have easily been even longer than that. I really can only make an educated guess. I imagine the yellowed fabric was once bright white and that the embroidery floss was once more vibrant.
So now I am going to pick up where she left off. I recently started filling in a section of the orange tulip. I already know this will be a project that likely takes me years, but I’m not in a big rush. I will find pockets of time here and there and keep stitching until the five sections she started are completed. Once I complete those five sections, I’ve had a few ideas as to what I will do with the completed pieces. There is a possibility I turn each of them into small quilts of their own. I may also frame each of the pieces. My mother has already expressed a desire to keep the daffodil section once that is completed. I most want to keep the lilac section as that is a flower and color palette I prefer.
This project has felt so different than anything else I’ve taken on. I’m not used to picking up where someone left off or trying to match stitches, colors, and styles. It has been a different kind of challenge than I was expecting. It has also been wonderfully refreshing. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s for the last decade of her life, and at 26 that is a large chunk of the time that I knew her. She never knew that I have continued to sew. She never saw me start making my own clothes, embroidering, and so much more. So in a way, this project has become an intimate conversation with the woman I never really got to know beyond a quiet and reserved grandmother. With the woman who had a delicate hand that is evident in each stitch. With the woman who had an entire closet filled with sewing supplies. With the woman who watched me learn to sew for the first time when I was six and never got to see me flourish after that first aha moment as a child.