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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

Comments are welcomed!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 16, 2018:

Hi Robert,

The only grandparent that I never got to meet was my paternal grandfather. He died of pneumonia (prior to Penicillin) when my dad was only 8 years of age. My brothers and I also got to know not only our aunts and uncles but some of the great aunts and uncles and one great-grandmother as well. We were indeed fortunate.

Robert Sacchi on September 15, 2018:

I was also fortunate in that respect. People should appreciate their older relatives. It is a good link with the past.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 15, 2018:

Hi Robert,

My dear grandmother who created these button place cards died when I was a sophomore in high school. My other grandmother died years later after I was a grown woman and married. They were both very special to me.

Robert Sacchi on September 14, 2018:

Yes, you definitely were fortunate to have spent a good amount of time with them.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on September 14, 2018:

Hi Robert,

My grandmother...actually both of them...were amazing women and I am so fortunate to have gotten to spend so much time with them.

Robert Sacchi on September 13, 2018:

It is great that you have such detailed information about your grandmother and that you posted it for posterity.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 06, 2018:

Hi Cynthia,

You are correct in that sometimes simple things like this can connect us to our past with regards to talents and interests in our extended family. I treasure these family pieces because they carry much meaning to me. My grandmother was very dear to me almost like a second mother.

Cynthia Zirkwitz from Vancouver Island, Canada on July 06, 2018:

Peggy, I enjoyed reading about your creative grandmother, and seeing pieces of her art. This is the information the generations to come need so that they can trace giftedness, interests and talents and carry-on that sense of belonging to a "tribe".

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on July 05, 2017:

Hi Lisa,

My grandmother was so creative and was truly a great seamstress. Glad to know that this brought back memories of ones in your family. I am curious how you found this article? Did you just happen upon it while searching online?

Lisa H. on July 05, 2017:

Peggy, I love this! Your grandmother was indeed, very resourceful and creative. Her button face place cards are especially unique and having seen them myself in person, I can attest they are beautiful and charming! Thanks for bringing back memories of sewing and seamstresses in my own family.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on March 29, 2012:

Hello mollymeadows,

Nice that you also have those memories and that the art of sewing was passed along to you as well. Thanks for your comment.

Mary Strain from The Shire on March 29, 2012:

Peggy, this brought back such happy memories for me. My grandmother and both my aunts could sew anything and even taught me when I was a teen. I love the button creations!

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on December 19, 2011:

Hello Mark and Cheri,

So glad that my hub about my dear grandmother brought back memories and smiles regarding yours. Thanks for your comment.

Mark and Cheri on December 19, 2011:

Thank you for the smiles your hub gave me, remembering my grandmother.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 11, 2011:

Hi shea duane,

Yes those old needle containers are quite pretty. Thanks for reading and leaving a comment on this hub regarding my grandmother's handiwork.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 11, 2011:

Hi marellen,

Your aunt sounds just like my grandmother. Wonderful to have talent in sewing like that. In my case the apple fell FAR from the tree. I can thread a needle! Haha! Thanks for your comment.

shea duane from new jersey on October 11, 2011:

I LOVE the needlebooks!

marellen on October 11, 2011:

Peggy, your grandmother was so talented and clever. I had an aunt that could sew without patterns too. She would see an outfit in a store window and go home and make it. That is real talent just like your grandmother. What a special memory you have.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 11, 2011:

Hi anndavis25,

It is a shame to let family stories die for the lack of telling. I have cousins who knew the same grandmother and who now have children. Because we always lived close to my grandparents, perhaps I heard more of these stories than they did. The Internet makes it easy to share. Thanks for your comment.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 11, 2011:

Hi dahoglund,

Mending...that is where that old saying originated..."A stitch in time saves nine." The trick is to get to things early before they become a major project. More people than ever are thinking of purchasing clothes and other things in garage sales and in thrift shops.

Many designers on the HGTV show regularly shop thrift shops and often repurpose pieces of furniture, lamps, etc. Smart!

Those rag rugs were certainly a great repurposing of clothing items when no longer useable in other forms. Still popular today!

Thanks for your comment and votes.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 11, 2011:

Hi GmaGoldie,

You sound as though you stay very busy with no time for crafts. Actually my grandmother's sewing when her family was growing up was more of a necessity but I doubt that she looked at it that way since she loved it so much. Glad that she had the time to do the needlepoint that we still enjoy today as well as those button placecards. My grandparents were the first to get a TV when they first came out (my parents getting one much later), but prior to that they would have sat at night reading, talking, playing cards, or listening to the radio among other things. Thus there was more time to do handiwork back then. As you say, many people just sit in front of the TV in the evenings now. Thanks for your comment.

anndavis25 from Clearwater, Fl. on October 11, 2011:

Love this, Peggy. A tribute to your mother & grandmother. You are a scribe for your ancestors.

Don A. Hoglund from Wisconsin Rapids on October 11, 2011:

Some amazing stuff here.My mother sewed but primarily mending, I think. Most of my short sleeve shirts were my former long sleeve shirts.She did make rugs from rags which I always thought great.I have found that it really isn't feasible to do much mending now because one can buy a better shirt at a garage sale for probably less than the supplies for mending.voted this up,interesting, beautiful and awesome.

Kelly Kline Burnett from Madison, Wisconsin on October 11, 2011:

Peggy W,

Working full time has never afforded me the time to take up a craft - my craft has been home renovation but I think it is one of the highest skills and a lost art.

LOVED this hub! My handcrafted items are some of my prized possessions, I know the care and attention the created must have worked diligently upon.

The sitting in front of tube is not my thing, sadly for many today, that is their main enjoyment.

What a beautiful hub and tribute to your family's talents.

Your fellow Wisconsinite,


Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on October 11, 2011:

Hello sarovai,

So nice of you to comment in that way. Yes, my grandmother was certainly one to emulate. I loved her dearly. She was like a second mother to me. Thanks for your comment.

sarovai on October 11, 2011:

I can say , Golden collections. It is really a good thing , to engage ourselves , with one or other types of activities. Your grandmother is the example for one and all in the world that nobody should idling , and expecting something from nothing. Thank u for sharing this wonderful hub.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 05, 2009:

Hi katyzzz, I think typing for articles on hubpages counts as far as keeping our hands busy. LOL Thanks!

katyzzz from Sydney, Australia on June 05, 2009:

Peggy, my mind is always busy but my hands are often idle, perhaps I could learn something from your grandmother. I just loved all those pictures, a great hub

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 01, 2009:

Hi Melody, She used to be creative when alive. Unfortunately she had been gone now for many decades.

At one point I was crocheting but haven't done that in years. It is so nice to be able to create handmade things and give them away as gifts. I gave my creations away. Did you also give yours as gifts?

Melody Lagrimas from Philippines on June 01, 2009:

Your grandma's very creative. My mother used to crochet, and I did some cross stitching a few years ago. I hope to engage in it once again.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 01, 2009:

Hi Teresa, That would not be all bad. In fact, we can continue to learn things from our ancestor's lives and how they coped with situations. History often does repeat itself for better or worse...

Sounds like you will be prepared! Thanks for the comment.

Sheila from The Other Bangor on June 01, 2009:

Yeah -- it was taken for granted that every house have a tin box full of buttons and threads -- I was taught sewing, crochet, and basic embroidery. Clothes were mended and socks were darned. I've a feeling we might be going back to a time when those skills will once again be in demand, so I'm glad my Nana, Granny, and Great Aunt Jane taught me what they did. . .

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 01, 2009:

Hi Kiran, I am doing these hubs as much for my mother as myself. She is loving these tributes to her mother and she is able to fill in some details of her mother's life for me. Now that we live together we all get the benefit of seeing my grandmother's work on a daily basis (except for the Christmas tree which is put out seasonally, of course.) Glad you are enjoying this as well. Thanks for the comment.

kiran8 from Mangalore, India on June 01, 2009:

The needlepoints are so lovely, thanks a lot for sharing such exquisite pics and memories of your grandma :)

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 01, 2009:

Hi Ethel, Start saving your buttons for your own Christmas tree. (Smile) I think that my modest grandmother would be amazed at what has been generated on hubpages because of her past efforts. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 01, 2009:

Hi Nolimits Nana, I also love those little faces she created on the place cards. Thanks for reading and commenting.

Ethel Smith from Kingston-Upon-Hull on June 01, 2009:

Nice to meet your Grandma, virtually. The Xmas tree is a great idea.

Nolimits Nana on June 01, 2009:

I love those little place card faces! You're so fortunate to have those physical memories of your creative grandmother.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 01, 2009:

I agree Dolores that it is wonderful to be able to see and appreciate and be visually reminded of my grandmother with things that she made. The connection is deep and heartfelt. Enjoyed your comment.

Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on June 01, 2009:

How wonderful to have all those things that your beautiful grandmother (I read another hub about her) made - you are touching the things that she worked on - it's like reaching into the past and keeping a bit of a connection to her.

Peggy Woods (author) from Houston, Texas on June 01, 2009:

Hello aimer la vie, It has definitely created memories for us! Thanks for noticing this and making this quick comment.

aimer la vie from California on June 01, 2009:

Very creative items, and some good resources for those who see sewing as a foreign or difficult thing. It's nice how sewing produces creativity and memories to pass on for generations.

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