Childhood Keepsakes Remind Us to Keep Handwork Art Alive

Phyllis Inspiration, Lifestyle 29 Comments

I was sitting in my sewing room the other day and looked around at the keepsakes I have kept through the years. I have wonderful artwork from my boys when they were young, quilts from grandmothers, embroideries and crochet from the women in our family, paintings from my mom, and many other things that have special meaning for me.

There were two things I wanted to share with you that have special meaning. One is my little ballerina cake topper from my birthday cake when I was in elementary school. I don’t remember my age, but I remember the “store-bought” birthday cake from the Pizitz bake shop, one of the greatest bakeries in the history of Birmingham. We all grieved when the doors were closed.


This little ballerina, complete with a tattered skirt and a missing hand, is made of china. She spins on her stand and was a popular cake topper of the day. To dispel any thoughts that I was a ballerina or even resembled one is my goal here. I appreciated those that were coordinated, but not me. But, my little ballerina has been a prized treasure that I will pass to my granddaughter (who is a ballerina) when she is a little older.

The second treasure is my little red sewing machine. This little machine made doll dresses and various sewn items that were unidentifiable, but to me, they were works of art. My love of sewing came from my mother, whom I am sure was instrumental in this Santa gift.


Today I love sewing and quilting, and I hope that my granddaughter will too. I keep this on display in my sewing room and still recall how excited I was when I got to sew. It reminds me that teaching people to do things with their hands is very important. That’s how girls learned in the past, at the feet of another woman, and that’s really how girls will learn today.

I am a firm believer that we must continue to teach sewing, stitching, handwriting, art, and anything creative to our young people. We have all had to embrace the computer world and this is the world our young people are in from now on. But nothing can replace the human mind and creativity. Crayons, paper, needle and thread, paint, ink, and time with a special child can yield life-changing experiences. I am so thankful that my mom instilled in me a love of handwork. I hope to continue passing her legacy on to my granddaughter.

Do have a special art or hobby that you learned as a child?

Victoria September 2014

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Comments 29

  1. My mother made all of our clothes, and taught me to sew and help when I was about 10. I still love to sew, and have become a quilter as well. I have a sewing machine I am saving for my granddaughter. I’m hoping she will carry on the sewing!

  2. I feel so incredibly blessed that I had many ladies in my family that influence me in the sewing and craft department. My mothers mother ran the pattern department at Burger Phillips in downtown Birmingham forever. Her husband died when my mom was 18 months old, so she would sew for customers at night when she got home from work for extra money. She also made baby panties during the depression and I have her receipt books! She was very talented and taught me to sew at a very young age. She bought my first sewing machine when I was in the 5th grade…I still have it….a Phaff….still sews beautifully! My other grandmother…my dads mom….was an incredible seamstress…she worked at Odom Bowers and White in alterations also in Birmingham….when she made something you could wear it inside out….I still strive to roll and whip and make my french seams as perfect at hers. I still have my baby clothes that she made me and I actually had a picture made with my granddaughter wearing one of my dresses. My craftiness came from my Aunt….she was the craft queen! I love and miss these women, but feel so blessed that I had the opportunity to learn something from each of them. I love sewing for my grandchildren….2 boys and 2 girls…..I have an embroidery business, I love to scrapbook and I am beginning to try my hand at quilting. I am hopeful that I will be able to teach my granddaughters how to sew and they will love it as much as I do!

  3. At an early age my mother taught my twin sister and I how to knit. I would watch her make many different items such as little baby sets with hats, sweaters and booties. I just loved the pastel pink, blue, mint green and yellow. She also made sweaters with angora kittens, dresses, coats, etc. I am grateful for those knitting lessons as we continued to do the same. Although I don’t knit too much any more because my website takes up my time but I cherish all that she taught us. I have kept some baby sets and every so often I look at them and it brings a tear to my eye. Thanks Phyllis for sharing and allowing us to share.

  4. My mother taught me to knit and to crochet. However, our dear neighbor, Mrs. Mary Redmond taught me how to cut a pattern and sew with the sewing machine! I delighted in making outfits for myself, my mom and my Aunt. Once my niece and nephews were born, I most enjoyed sewing their Halloween costumes each year. A dear friend of mine enjoyed playing Santa Claus. His car containing his outfit was stolen and he was heart broken. My friend Teresa and I joined forces and sewed him a wonderful Santa Claus outfit so he could continue working with non profit and civil organizations during the Christmas season. Thank you for sharing your precious memories, allowing ours to surface and be shared as well.

  5. How lovely it must be for you to sit in that sewing room. I had a craft room in my house where I painted and made wall hangings for my daughter, friends and mother.
    I was a nurse for many years and at one time I took care of an aging relative since she was 92 years old and no longer able to be alone. She taught me the basics of crochet. How I fell in love with it. One day she was sad and made the remark that she should pass away because she had nothing to offer anymore. I spent an hour reminding her that she had just taught me an amazing art that I would not have learned otherwise. It cheered her up and it made me feel good that I could do that for her.
    I have spent many hours crocheting and it always makes me feel so peaceful. I was thrilled when my granddaughter ask me to teach her. I have another granddaughter who sews (these girls are in their early 20’s so I am very proud of them for taking time out of their very busy lives to enjoy the simple pleasure of working with their hands.)
    The gift my elder relative gave me, beside teaching mw to crochet, is the fact that every time I pick up a crochet needle I remember her and I smile.

  6. Both of these items bring childhood memories to me! Thank you for reminding me of those special times in MY life! In my mind I “think” I can still imagine the wonderful smell of the Pizitz bakery, for there has been no other bakery come close to that deliciousness since! I had one cake from there, when I was 6, but no known memento such as your precious cake topper. I also received a little red hand crank sewing machine at around 7 years of age. I made plenty of doll clothes. Wish I still had that little machine. My favorite type of sewing is cross stitch, however that has waned. A favorite memory of my daughter is when she was three she wanted to help me cross stitch. Well, sewing cards did the trick for her. She was sewing, the little “lace” she threaded through the cards acted much like a “needle” and she was completely satisfied. We had many happy sewing days together! Thank you for reminding me of those precious times!

  7. All of these entries touched my heartstrings. My sweet Mother had all of these skills plus cooking and gardening. None of the quiet handwork appealed to me as a young girl but I did love cooking and gardening which I still do – after 80 plus years of life. These have thankfully passed on to both my son and daughter and are passing to my grandchildren as well. My children are both better gardeners than I but still enjoy my flower garden and both enjoy cooking and the tools for each. We all have quite an appreciation for tools that are of good quality and can accomplish the task with dispatch. So, you see, much more than the skill is often learned. I find both pursuits to be quite creative, as well and a great outlet for stress. An hour in the garden soothes the spirit and gives me a new perspective.

    Thank you all for sharing and reminding me of a quiet more gentle time. We would do well to find it in our own day more often.

  8. My Mother taught me to embroider when I was young. I decorated my first pillowcase when I was four. My grandmother taught me the basics of crochet. I loved crocheting lacy doilies. I wish she could have seen my “best of show” doily from the county fair. Because my eyesight isn’t what it used to be, I tend to stick to afghans these days. I also love to design, cross stitch and bead biscornu and humbugs. Handwork, handiwork is good for the heart, soul, and mind.

  9. I treasure the love letters my father wrote to my mother when they were courting (350 miles distant) and those written by my husband to me (50 miles distant) when we were courting. I re- read them often and sense a closeness to those who authored them at a different time, a different place. How sad that such letters are rarely written now.

  10. The ability to create something with your hands is a craft that needs to be passed down at all cost. I have been needlework for many years as well as arranging flowers. We can not let these things become a dying art!

  11. Add Calligraphy to the arts that should be handed down
    I know that computers have all the fonts, but nothing replaces a lovingly hand-done piece of art.
    I taught Calligraphy in junior high school for 5 years. Now I occasionally see one of my “scribes” who never fail to tell me that they still use what they learned 20 years ago.

  12. I agree with you that it is vitally important to pass these things on to our children and grandchildren. Sewing, stitching, handwriting(esp.) all the artwork that used to be passed down generation to generation. It is sad to me that my own adult daughters have no interest in these things. I try to teach my granddaughter when she is with me. These items are precious, the skill is precious and I fear being pushed out and done away with by most women. Yes, computers, social media, the rush of the world make these arts nearly forsaken. Like hand-written Thank You’s and letters. I used to and still do lament the fact I had no Nana or relative to teach me these things. I have learned to do much, but how much more precious and meaningful it would have been coming from my Mom or Nana.

  13. You are right Phyllis, these wonderful skills of sewing, crochet, knitting & other handwork should be passed onto the next generation. I still have pillowcases with my grandmother’s tating; they are a treasure. There are times, I will pick up a piece at an estate sale because I can appreciate all the work that has gone into the making. Thanks for sharing your treasures.

  14. During the air raids on London my Mother taught me to knit. I was ten years old. I have spent countless happy hours knitting for my family and now my Great Grand children .Happily my Grand daughters are Knitters too. Thank you for your emails they are enjoyed so much.

  15. When I was around eight years old, I was sick and could only watch by the window the other kids play in the yard. My mother saw how sad I was not being outside with everyone, so decided to keep me busy and show me how to hand sew. She thought I would be bored after a fifteen minutes, a few hours later I was still concentrating on getting my project finished. Little did she know I would be hooked for the rest of my life with anything handmade. On my ninth birthday, I asked my mother for my very own sewing basket. She taught me the basics of embroidery, crochet, knitting and many other handy crafts. Till this day, I am continuously looking to get my hands on a new project or technique to experiment with and am very grateful that she passed down skills that my grandmother did. Even tough I never had the fortune to meet my grandmother, I inherited some of her precious handy work and her collection of laces as well as her passion for needlework. I hope one day to do like my mother did, pass down the love of needlework to my grandchildren.

  16. As a teacher, one of the saddest things was the day when we were told that there was just “no time” to teach handwriting any more nor any need to do so, since everything in the future would be done on a keyboard. Handwriting was the perfect afternoon project for my third-graders. The rhythmic strokes and the repetition of letters was soothing and almost meditational to the children. Frequently, children who were not “good” at other subjects were quite good at handwriting. Before we turned our papers in, I always asked them to underline their favorite letter in each line, so that I could see the one they were most proud of. Perhaps it only consumed 15 minutes a day, but the look of pride on their faces when they were finally able to connect the letters to each other was worth seeing.
    Now that I have been retired a couple of years, I have taken up calligraphy, and I find that it is just as soothing to me as cursive handwriting was to 8-year-olds. Sometimes we need to slow down and do something simple and lovely to remind ourselves of our more artistic sides. And still, when I pick up the mail, nothing thrills me as much as the handwritten envelope of a personal letter.

  17. I love handiwork, and learned various forms of it from my parents and grandparents. I am passing along that love to my children too. After they begged me to learn, I taught my son and daughter how to sew with needle and thread over the summer, and we will tackle crochet with them in the fall, as well as knitting, though the knitting lessons will come from their grandmothers. There is nothing quite like a handmade treasure, be it identifiable or not, to warm the heart of the receiver. Every time I use the lessons I was taught by my father and grandparents, now deceased, I am given their gifts all over again, and stay connected with their love.

  18. My sweet grandmother taught me to sew on her old Singer sewing machine. She tried to teach me to tat but I always struggled with that. And much too late I decided I wanted her to teach me how to cook like she did using her recipes that were never written down. She had begun the spiral into dementia and I didn’t know how bad it had gotten as we lived 3000 miles apart. My daughter recently gave me dish towels with some of my grandmother’s handwritten recipes printed on them in her hand writing and all. These will always be very dear to my heart because they are gifts from two of the most loved people in my life.

    I make it a point now to try and make sure to pass along any info with my two young grandkids when they show an interest. Right now it is my gardening and jewelry making but I know it will turn into some other things, as well. Take the time with your loved one. You will never regret it.

  19. I teach little children art. And now I am teaching grown up girls (30-40’s) hand sewing. Hope these things don’t disappear with our generation. They all love what they are learning

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