Wednesday, January 15, 2020

By their stash shall ye know them

Many of my friends know about my never-ending conceptual art project that I have been calling "mile-o-crochet" even though it will probably not get to be a mile long.  I'm using up leftover yarn to crochet a series of l-o-n-g strips that have no purpose at all except to be rolled up into cakes.  As the word has gotten around, I have become the recipient of many bags of yarn bits.

Today I scored seven bags of stuff from a friend of a friend, and spent a couple of hours sorting it into piles -- worsted weight for the mile-o-crochet, delicate baby yarn, other sport-weight yarns, rug yarn, needlepoint wool, novelty yarns for fancy knitted scarves, a pile of miscellaneous for art, and a little bit in the wastebasket. 

I know the donor of this stash must feel great thinking that the leftovers from decades of handwork will go to a good cause.  I wish I could assure her that it will happen -- I will definitely make the mile-o- and the baby afghans, but since I no longer do needlepoint and don't really know how to knit, I will take the rest to my fiber art group grab bag tomorrow and hope that somebody else will grab.

But what struck me as I sorted through the bags was how much of this woman's life is revealed by her stash.  From the envelopes of patterns she ordered, I know her maiden name, her mother's address and one of her still-in-town-but-my-own-place addresses before she moved to Louisville.  (Note to those in witness protection: go through your bags of yarn carefully before de-accessioning.)  I know that in the 70s she made a bazillion crocheted caps -- or at least she bought or cut out a bazillion patterns for crocheted caps.

I know that she drafted her own patterns for needlepoint, often making personalized belts and other stuff with appropriate symbols, logos and lettering. 

I know she bought a lot of rug yarn, and at least three rug hooks, but never made the rug(s).  I know from a note on the bag that her mother liked to knit and crochet stuff for the church bazaar, like this crocodile/hot mitt.

Here's a giveaway thimble marked "Don't get stuck.  Re-elect SENATOR JOHN SHERMAN COOPER", which my husband says might be worth some money to a collector of political memorabilia, as Cooper was a nationally prominent Republican who served on the Warren Commission.  She herself was active in politics, once running for judge (a crochet pattern written on a piece of her campaign stationery).

I've always liked working with leftovers and hand-me-down projects.  Knowing that some other woman once sat in the evenings making something useful and beautiful out of this yarn, this canvas, this fabric, gives me an energy that I don't get from virgin materials.  I'm not a woo-woo person, but I do think there's an aura to pre-owned and pre-used things -- usually a good aura that I seek to capture and amplify with my own subsequent work.

Sometimes the other woman is one I love -- my grandmothers, my mother, my sister.  Sometimes she is totally unknown to me and I can try to imagine her as I stitch.  Sometimes I know who she is without having ever met her -- in many cases, the mothers or grandmothers of my friends.  In this case, it's a woman whose husband I ran into occasionally in my long-ago reporter days, whose name is familiar to me but whom I don't think I have ever met.  And yet her life is now a little bit entwined with mine. 

I hope this doesn't sound creepy, like I'm stalking her.  But since I know who she is, maybe I will call her up, thank her for the stash and see if she wants her John Sherman Cooper thimble back.


  1. My mother and my aunt cleaned out their mother's household goods when she died. Mom stuck the contents of a kitchen drawer designated for recipes in a box, unsorted. When I cleaned out my mother's kitchen and house, I found that box. Sorting through it was like an archeologic dig; I had no idea my grandmother went to fancy cooking lessons or that she dreamed of a modern kitchen or a washing machine with a wringer. Or that she kept recipes for home-made beauty cream.
    I gave that stack of stuff to the University for their archives' I gave them a huge box, they returned a small envelope as items not currently in their archives.

  2. Not creepy at all, quite poetic.

  3. Well THAT's interesting. I suppose there is a lot of information about me laying around my "room" and on my shelves. But I am usually pretty alert to leaving my address on something. Nice stash of yarn you got!!
    xx, Carol

  4. So amazing that thimbles used to be campaign swag!