Saturday, October 25, 2008


Aunt Martha and me in 1951

I've often wondered why I love fabric, old buttons, and wooden spools so much. I can hardly resist when I see them displayed at flea markets or garage sales. They seem to call to me. The truth is, I have all the old buttons and wooden spools I could ever need, and I use the word "need" loosely. The fact is, I don't really need those things at all, but I do love having them. I recently realized they remind me of my childhood. Sifting through tins full of old buttons and playing with wooden spools of thread always make me think of my Aunt Martha's sewing room.
Aunt Martha was married to my dad's brother, Wayne. She and Uncle Wayne were married about 5 years before my mom and dad wed but they hadn't yet started a family. My first memories of Uncle Wayne and Aunt Martha were of the two of them bringing my sister and me Easter baskets and floppy pajama bag dogs that Aunt Martha had made. She named them Flopsy and Mopsy and I feel sure mine is still around here someplace.
Aunt Martha was an excellent seamstress who also made Easter outfits and spring coats for my sister and me. I still remember the color and texture of the coats. They were both made from the same lightweight pink plaid wool and had round pink satiny buttons down the fronts. Our mother was always happy to have Aunt Martha make things for us, as it helped the family budget, which was alway tight.
Some of my fondest memories of Aunt Martha were the invitations to accompany her upstairs to the sewing room in her home. What a thrill that was! That always seemed like a very mysterious room to me, since the door was always kept closed. Walking into the sewing room was like entering a wonderland. In my mind, I can still see the white dotted Swiss curtains at her windows, the dress form, the mounds of fabric, the button box full of all sorts of buttons - round ones, square ones, sparkly ones, and plain ones - of every color in the rainbow. I remember the spools of thread in glorious colors spread all around the room.
Aunt Martha's sewing room even had its own smell. When I catch a whiff of lavender or cedar from an old blanket chest, I'm immediately taken back to that room and all its treasures. It was a wonderous place and I loved being in there. My aunt would allow me to finger all the fabric and play in the button box and she never scolded me for getting into her things. Actually, she encouraged exploration, perhaps because she was a teacher. Maybe that's why I enjoy "creative clutter" now.
The only rule for being in her sewing room was that I not allow her big fluffy yellow cat, Felix, into the room with me. I didn't know back then what damage a cat could inflict on a sewing room, but I'm well aware of it now since I have my own menagerie of cats.
My mother did a little bit of sewing, but as my brother and youngest sister came along (which made four of us), Mom had less and less time to make us clothes, though she often managed to make us gowns or pajamas for Christmas. We were always happy when Aunt Martha sewed for us and I'm sure she enjoyed doing it.
About the time I was 9 years old, Aunt Martha and Uncle Wayne moved from Ohio to California. My uncle had been offered a good job out there and though they didn't want to move so far away from family, they felt it best he take the job offer since he'd been out of work for some time. That moved changed all our lives forever. Within three years of their move, they had two children, a boy and a girl, who we never actually came to know. We saw them only a few times thoughout the next decades and I will always wish we could have been closer.
Uncle Wayne and Aunt Martha have passed on and it's been only recently that I've begun to correspond with my California cousins through emails. So much time has gone by, but the memories of Aunt Martha taking me "under wing" and allowing me into her sewing sanctuary will remain with me for the rest of my life. I often wonder if she would have been the one to teach me to sew and crochet. Would she and I have made projects together if she'd stayed in Ohio? I'll never know the answers to my questions, but I'll always savor the memories of her sewing room.
I am sure she is the one who most influenced me to play with fabric, old buttons, and wooden spools and I will forever be grateful to her for instilling in me an appreciation of those things. I think Aunt Martha might have also passed her love of cats to me. Her big fluffy yellow cat, Felix, and I were good friends.

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