Close Knit

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Great Aunt Lenore was one of those orbital family members I encountered a few times a year, and whose context in my early life was not entirely clear to me. I remember her mostly as a bosomy backdrop for costume jeweled brooches, with grey marcelled hair and a wall-eye that always looked away while she asked how did I like school. She was not a cheek-pincher. She was a spinster* who somehow knew that an ivory-colored vinyl manicure set was the perfect Christmas present to give to a nine-year-old girl.

We dispensed with the “great” and simply called her Aunt Lenore. She was Pappaw Watts’ older sister (by ten years), born in 1897. I came along in 1953, and as a child was a bit tentative around her. It might have been that eye which refused to look at me, or simply because her world was so different than mine. We didn’t visit her often, but the ebb tide of a memory— the occasional Christmas or Easter noonday dinner in her dimly lit Victorian dining room (my younger sister Dianne and I on best behavior)— sometimes laps at my feet.

The holiday ham would be festooned with Dole pineapple slices, tacked on by whole cloves, an exotic touch, and a far cry from our usual pit stop after church: the brand new McDonald’s off I-83. My shyness and disinterest in adult conversation pushed me into exploring the house’s dark shadows, punctuated by porcelain knickknacks and bright white spotlights of crocheted doilies draped on chair arms, a love seat’s back, or under an African violet.

Of all the objects I have traveled the decades with, one that somehow has never strayed is a patchwork Afghan throw that she knitted. It most likely was a wedding gift for my parents (my father was her nephew). I don’t know which is more incredible: that I still have it or that she made it at all. Aunt Lenore was legally blind.

Her niece, my Aunt Anna Mae, is the lone custodian of memories predating my birth for my father’s side of the family. Anna Mae was my father’s younger sister, up until he was electrocuted on the job and our world’s axis took a seismic shift. Natural questions that would have been asked became stillborn in the wake of our personal nuclear family incident. So I’m asking them now. I learned that Aunt Lenore’s blindness was caused the day she was born.

“They put the wrong drops in her eyes. I guess they put drops in babies’ eyes as soon as they are born. That is what I was always told. She could see to get around but was considered completely blind.”

She went to the Overbrook School for the Blind in Philadelphia to learn a trade, and came out a masseuse. Who were her clients? No one I knew while growing up would indulge in what is now standard luxury spa fare. But massage was likely the muscle relaxant most prescribed by doctors of the time. E.R. Squibb’s followers were still experimenting in pharmaceutical labs, test tubes clinking, while she worked out knots (and knocked out her knitting projects).

I wish I could talk to her right now, woman to woman, spanning the centuries over a cup of tea: one of us a relic of the Victorian age, and the other of the baby boom era. Both childless, we each mustered—maybe even mastered—a creative life within the triangle of fate, circumstance, and will. She never left her hometown. I fled to Manhattan. And with me, I took that Afghan quilt.

*This (derogatory) term reflects the time I am referring to.

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Our family – 1956

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Dianne & Aunt Lenore – 1957

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1960 – Me,  Great-grandfather Smolizer (Mammaw Watts’ father) and Dianne . . . and Aunt Lenore’s throw. Quite a contrast to our brand new mid-century modern living room!

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Easter 1961 – maybe a visit to Aunt Lenore’s after church?

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1971 – Aunt Lenore’s throw has cozied-up my first NYC apartment, just in time for visiting friends from high school

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1974 – my first Hell’s Kitchen studio apartment, and a visiting kitty.

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1975 – my second Hell’s Kitchen apartment

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1976 – what self-respecting fashionista  didn’t have those Reminiscence coveralls? (And gel-sandals??) Roxy (and all my cats) can’t wait to get her hair all over that throw.

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1979 –  Aunt Lenore’s throw is a backdrop for entering the New Wave era. And a security blanket that connects me to where I come from.

The shoe box of ancient family photos has yielded this gem. I never knew who it was, until I recently scrutinized the back. In pencil, it faintly says “Lenore 1913.” She is sixteen, in a field, wearing glasses and feeling the tall grass and wildflowers that she can’t see. Weaving it into her expanding world.

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copyright Sharon Watts 2016

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Domestic Season

Pot holder rack

I happen to love pot holders. Humble little works of sewing art, they don’t seem to require a whole lot of expertise. Which is fine by me. I am not a world class seamstress and never will be.

My fabric is already here, ready to go, and has been for decades–I am a fabric hound. Once purchased, it either became something or not. I save scraps, and I still have yards of virgin territory.

A recent beneficiary of a new sewing machine (thank you, Kirk!), I am armed for the new season. After sewing up the four sides of my mini-masterpiece to the batting, I relocate to the corner of the sofa, manage to thread the needle, and slip stitch away.

As long as my attention span holds, I will turn churn out pot holders. I have no system, no assembly line; I just cut, pin, sew, admire, (rip out), and basically indulge in the sewing equivalent of comfort food. Some are already destined to be gifts, a few may be sold around the holidays. I’m not going to get rich here, but that’s not the point.

It just feels like the thing I need to do, that’s all. And that’s enough.

Pink Panther pot holder

Pink Panther quilted fabric remnant

Pink Panter 2

and the back…or front?

Park bench pot holder

One of 6 squares to be sewn, upcycled from a 1950s circle skirt

rose pot holder

Salvaged slipcover from the 1940s. On the back is denim from an old pair of jeans.

Groovy pot holder

Feeling groovy! From curtain panels that adorned a bedroom at the dawning of the Age of Aquarius.

Sperm potholder

Fabric from “the sperm shirt” (his, not mine)–bought in Paris when I was married, in the early 1980s.

 

And here is part of my collection:

Old Mill pot holder

The Old Mill~ purchased on a early 90s road trip in Bat Cave, NC.

retro pot holder

1950s retro (a pot holder with mitts?)

Campbells Kids pot holder

Campbells Kids, erased by time. Mmm, mmm good!

chicken pot holder

My Japanese quilter friend made me this. I love the chicken feet embroidery stitches (give or take a toe).

Chicken bottom

The Japanese always kick our crafting up a notch!

Marilyn pot holder

Made by my crafty friend Marilyn! Love the fabric with buttons printed on it.

So, pass the casseroles!