One of my favorite fall rituals involves retrieving grandma’s blanket from storage.  It usually makes its first appearance when overnight temperatures reach down into the 40s – an event which finally happened this week.   During the day it lays folded at the foot of the bed.  At night, its weight keeps me warm and comfortable.

Pieced from scraps of leftover fabric, it consists of individual squares stuffed with laddered nylons, folded with all four corners together at the center, hand-stitched closed and then tied through all layers with a length of embroidery thread.  The individual squares were hand-sewn together into a blanket that is roughly the size of a twin bed.  All told, it must weigh at least five pounds – nylons are substantially heavier than polyester batting – and I am careful about how I handle it so as not to stress its aging fabric and seams.

Grandma was an immigrant from Denmark and she married a full-blooded Bohemian.  They had two children during the Great Depression and raised their family together until grandpa died from (what we now know was) acute myelogenous leukemia when my mom was 15.  I don’t believe grandma ever held a job outside the home; she may have taken in sewing or odd jobs when she was able, but I think she lived on social security with the help of her kids and the support of her siblings and their families.  She lived in a small house in a neighborhood of small houses and her needs were few.

The one thing I know for sure about my grandma is that she liked to keep her hands busy – she embroidered pillow cases and dresser scarves, tatted edges on anything that wasn’t nailed down, and had a particular fondness for crochet.  She seemed to prefer working with cotton thread and tiny steel hooks; I inherited some of her tools and one of these days I will frame what must have been her favorite – a tiny steel hook with a dull patina and an unimaginable curve in the handle.  I can only imagine how long it took to coax the steel to conform to the contours of her hand and match the angle at which she preferred to work.

Grandma died when I was seven, on my mom’s 38th birthday.  I still remember the floorplan of her house, eating mixed-up (scrambled) eggs in the kitchen, hanging out with my great-uncles on the front porch, and the tulips and grape hyacinths growing in her front yard.  Now that I’m older, I would like to think we would have enjoyed each other’s company as adults.  I can imagine sitting down with her on a Saturday morning with a cup of tea and a crochet (or knitting or embroidery) project in hand.  I’d love to know if her creations were mainly from Workbasket magazine or if she designed her own patterns from years of experience.   Did she choose to work with cotton thread because it was inexpensive, because she loved the intricacy of detail work, or because she preferred it to the scratchy acrylic yarns of the time?  Was she disappointed that her daughter wasn’t interested in creative pursuits, and would she be surprised that the need to create is part of my nature?

During my teen years I wanted to recreate grandma’s blanket with my leftover fabric and used pantyhose – and for years I saved my worn-out hosiery for this project so I wouldn’t be at a loss when her original wore out.   But I finally came to the realization that I don’t want another one – I want my grandma’s blanket.   After months of resting in a closet, putting it back into active use triggers a little wave of memories.  Grandma has been gone a long time, yet my memories of her linger in the physical object that she created.  I can only hope to be so lucky.

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