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My Grandmother and the Saying "Idle Hands are the Devil's Workshop."

I live in Houston and have worked as a nurse. I have a lifelong passion for traveling, nature, and photography (preferably all together!).

Old needle container of my grandmother's

Old needle container of my grandmother's

My Maternal Grandmother

No one could ever accuse my grandmother of being idle. She fully subscribed to the old saying that "Idle hands are the devil's workshop."

In an earlier post I described how my maternal grandmother was left motherless at an early age and was boarded and taught in a convent school operated by nuns.

All three of the girls in the family could cook, clean and sew but as each of them were stronger in some areas (or preferred some chores over others) when they lived together as a family they pretty well took over that main function in which each liked best or excelled. My grandmother's strong suit was sewing.

Sewing Expertise

She not only sewed clothing for herself but the rest of her family as well. When she got married and started having children she could use discarded clothing from other relatives and remake them into new outfits for her children and herself.

My grandmother along with others in that period of time survived the Great Depression and not much went to waste in those days!

Another old saying......"A stitch in time saves nine" applied to her mending skills. If anything became torn or needed mending it was tackled before the problem became enlarged necessitating a bigger repair project. Darning socks and mending was generally done at night when she could sit and relax.

In fact when she was sewing dresses for her two daughters and herself after she was married she did most of that in the evening and at night when she would not be interrupted by daily activities.

My grandmother genuinely loved sewing and creating things out of old or new fabrics. As already mentioned in that other post, she could go into a store and examine an outfit and then go home and make it. That creation would be better made than almost anything one could purchase. No unbound seams would be found on her outfits!

After marriage she took classes in tailoring and even upholstery.

My mother and her sister were some of the best dressed girls in school because of my grandmother's talents in sewing. As her granddaughter I was also the beneficiary of some cherished things made by her for some special occasions.

I vividly remember standing on her kitchen table as a young girl having her mark the hemlines in a new outfit for me. It was also a very relished period of time in which I could hear stories of past days when she was a girl and listen to her relating some of her unique experiences. Treasured by me are those special times spent with my grandmother.

My Grandmother's Needlepoint

In my grandmother's spare time she loved to do needlepoint. Hanging in our guest bedroom today are two little framed needlepoint pieces of handiwork done by my grandmother of some "Petit Point Colonial Girls - 8" x 10" with an ivory background and an oval mahogany finish frame.

In that same box of sewing supplies of the photos featured above was the original booklet of Hiawatha Heirloom Needlepoint Picture Outfits copyrighted in 1940 by the Heirloom Needlework Guild, Inc. The photos of the two girls of which she had completed a needlepoint were portrayed.

In addition there was a paper insert that was probably included no matter which design would have been the one purchased...the Petit Point Colonial Girls or the choice of many other designs. On the backside of the insert it had what appeared to be an etching of a full skirted woman doing some needlepoint. Under it was written "Beautiful Things Are Always Hand Made."

Under that was the following wording:

"Needlepoint--with the glamour of centuries of tradition--is the utterly fascinating handwork that has the added advantage of being the easiest of the hand-embroidery stitches. It lends to the home a charm which cannot be equaled, turns leisure hours into interesting ones and at the same time creates useful decorative pieces of true heirloom value."

The little dog needlepoint had been used as a pillow in my grandparent's home. I actually have a photograph showing that. When I got the piece it had been disassembled and was simply a flat piece of needlepoint as was the floral piece that she had created.

We had them both remade into pillows and kept the dog faced one a small pillow as it had originally been instead of enlarging it into something bigger as we did with the other piece.

My grandmother also did larger pieces of needlepoint that were used to cover some side chairs. These pieces of her handiwork have survived these many years long after she lovingly created them and they are a very treasured addition to our home today.

Button Creations

My grandmother was also an excellent cook who created a beautiful table setting and was renowned for her wonderful dinner parties. I have used place cards for some of our dinner parties and even learned some forms of calligraphy which I have utilized for writing our guest's names.

My grandmother far surpassed that meager way of assigning guests to their places at the table. Included here are a number of photos of bifold place cards that she created. These are not even the best of her designs but the dregs of what was left long after she no longer entertained like she had in the past.

The faces of these girls on the front of the place cards were buttons that she had salvaged from men's underwear. Yes there used to be buttons in years past on underwear! The men's underwear had larger buttons than the more dainty women's which gave her a larger surface with which to work.

Since my grandmother was a seamstress she always had a great number of scraps of fabrics left on hand that she could utilize for her projects. These "leftovers" became the designs for hats and the tops of dresses for these button faced girls that she designed for the place cards.

The eyes and hair were hand drawn. She glued pieces of fabric and inserted bits of feathers on the individually designed hats which appropriately matched the dresses. Just look at the different hat designs! It was painstaking work but being creative she must have had a lot of fun designing these charming little figures for the faces of her place cards.

There is a receipt from Gimbels department store in Milwaukee, Wisconsin that was kept with the booklet showing the colonial girls. The front of it shows a bill of $8.24 for 25 yarn and 1 needlepoint.

The back of the Gimbels receipt shows the following:


"If anything said or done in this store looks wrong, or is wrong, we would have our customers take it for granted that we shall set it right as soon as it comes to our knowledge. We are not satisfied unless our customers are."

Adam Gimbel -- 1842"

***Artistry comes in all types of expression.***

Not only did my grandmother create beautiful dresses, coats and other items of clothing but in her spare time she did the needlepoint which covered chairs, pillows and graced walls.

These place cards for dinner parties came out of remnants that were left over and are such a cute reminder today of what my grandmother created. I am glad that a few remained and were not utilized when she and my grandfather were entertaining friends and business associates.

With these few leftover place cards that I discovered in a box one day we decided to have them framed and give them to my mother as a gift. Each day when my mother sees this framed piece of artistry she is reminded of her talented and sweet mother who never let her hands be idle.

We had these assembled into picture frame for a gift to my mother.

We had these assembled into picture frame for a gift to my mother.

Saved Buttons

My grandmother saved buttons and if clothing could not be salvaged for some use, it would be given to the rag man who would come along at regular intervals. But before giving her rags away she saved the buttons for some future sewing project.

When I came across her great salvaged button collection I decided to create something of my own with the many different sizes, shapes and colors of buttons. They are now attached to a stuffed tree that I made as a Christmas decoration. Thus for several weeks during the year my grandmother's buttons are on display.

My mother actually remembers some of the buttons. One type was on a coat that my grandmother wore. Others were on some of my mother's clothes. Each one generates different memories for her. It is a nice way to use these remnants and still remember this sweet grandmother who was so talented and resourceful.

The devil was never going to catch my grandmother with idle hands!!!

Vintage buttons adorn this fabric Christmas tree.

Vintage buttons adorn this fabric Christmas tree.

My beautiful grandmother as a young lady long before I got to know her.

My beautiful grandmother as a young lady long before I got to know her.

State of Wisconsin

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2009 Peggy Woods

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