Monday, January 16, 2012

Common Threads: My Grandmother's Legacy

"No cord or cable can draw so forcibly, or bind so fast, as love can do with a single thread." (Robert Burton)  The "single thread" of love was and is a strong bond between me and my Grandma Smith.  If you've read the "bio" section of this blog, you know she had a huge influence on my love of needle arts.  I doubt I would have have ever picked up a crochet hook, had it not been for her demonstrated love of that art form.  Gossamer Tangles probably would not exist.

But in addition to the metaphorical common thread of love that binds us, my grandmother also left me a very tangible gift of "common thread" when she passed away several years ago.  She left me her thread box. When I create something, not only are my grandmother's love, patience, and inspiration incorporated into the piece, but quite often, a strand of her thread collection becomes a part of the project as well.

My grandmother not only crocheted, but she also loved to sew (as does my mother).  She especially loved hand-quilting.  Whenever she finished a project, she always saved her leftover thread. Garnering a large collection over the years, she kept the spools together in a multi-layered plastic box, which was given to me by my mom when my grandma died.

As you can see, the box is full of a huge variety of colors of thread and I've found that since inheriting it, I have rarely needed to buy new thread for hand-sewn projects.  I can almost always find what I need in my grandma's box.  But not only does the box contain a veritable treasure trove of color choices, it also tells much about the history of thread in its contents.

Some of the spools in the box are made of wood -- something you never see when you purchase thread today.  As you can see below, some spools even featured colored wood (dark green).  My grandma re-used some of the larger wooden spools to wrap and save thread remnants that were too small to save on their own spools. No waste!

Many of the older spools are marked "boil fast" or "will boil", harkening back to a time when laundry was boiled and women needed to be certain that the thread they used for sewing would hold up, in terms of both color-fastness and sturdiness, to repeated washings.

There are a couple of wooden spools of thread from the American Thread Company, formed in the US in 1898 by a merger of 13 New England thread firms.  In the early 1900's, the company became headquartered in a building in New York City, known to this day as The American Thread Company Building.  Later the company became Talon-American thread, but it no longer exists.

Looking at the collection of thread, you can also see a history of the materials used to make spools.  It appears that wood was discarded in favor of plastic, and then styrofoam became the material of choice.

It is also interesting to look at the prices on the thread.  There are several wooden spools with prices as low as 15 cents.  There are a couple of large wooden spools with a price of 29 cents (as compared to a current price of about $2.79 for the same size).  I tried to discover how long ago thread could be purchased at these prices, but was unable to find anything helpful.  I thought it might give me a clue as to how old the thread is.  If you have any information about this, I would love it if you would share it in a comment to this post. 

In addition to the thread, my grandma also kept many leftover sewing notions in the bottom of her box -- snaps, hooks and eyes, various types of needles, eyelets, etc.  

These have also been handy over the years.  I just used one of the metal snaps yesterday to close a crocheted clutch that I made.

Perhaps the thing I love most about my grandmother's thread box is the smell.  Every time I open it, I catch the faint but unmistakable fragrance of the spare front bedroom in her house on Ruth Street where she kept her sewing machine and sewing supplies.  I can't really describe the scent ... but it is pleasant and brings an instant rush of warm feelings, as well as a twinge of sadness. I will always miss my Grandma Smith.


  1. What a beautiful post! I love you Angie.....your post made me cry. I miss Grandma Smith too.

    1. I'm glad you read it and liked it. I love you, too, Amy. xo


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