Monday, August 22, 2016

Following a Thread

Years ago I claimed one corner of the family room as a sewing corner. I hung a few things on the wall, including a counted thread pattern that came from my paternal grandmother. I put the yellowed newsprint in an inexpensive frame and never thought much more about it. The other day I took it down while dusting and found a story. My grandparents lost a farm during the Depression and my grandfather died around 1940. Though it all my grandmother raised three healthy children. She was loving, kind, and very frugal. She used a magnifying glass to count stitches in photos of needlework so she could stitch the design without buying the pattern. When I looked carefully at this pattern, I found numbers Grandma had penciled near the embroidery key.

This pattern was written in German and published by the J. Wiehller Company of Berlin. The title, "Dumpfaffen" means "old world finch." The color key directs the birds be stitched in red, gray, and browns, making them similar to the purple finches in my yard. I began to wonder if Grandma inherited the pattern from her mother, Agatha. Grandma didn't buy many patterns. Perhaps my great grandmother brought it to Nebraska when she immigrated from Prussia in the late 1800's. She was 18 or 19 years old when she came with her parents. 

I gave up dusting and searched for notes I made while having a conversation with my aunt and two of her cousins, three Agatha's granddaughters. They have passed away so I can't ask them about this pattern. However my notes reminded me that Agatha learned advanced sewing skills and hat trimming while still in Prussia. She stayed in Marienburg, away from her family, for six weeks to learn those skills. Rumor has it that while she was there, she pierced her ears and learned to dance, quite a statement by a young Mennonite girl in Prussia. These ladies were quick to add that these were only rumors and no one knew for sure if they were true. Regardless, my great grandmother liked to make things. She also loved music and composed at least one piano piece. Her four sons sang as a quartet. Her daughters pooled money to buy a piano for the family. The three ladies I visited with remembered Agatha often sang to her grandchildren as I sing to mine. As a purple finch lands on the bird feeder, I wonder if Agatha liked to watch the birds. 

I am a saver of old family stuff. Sometimes I look around and wonder why I save it. I want my children to take only things they want. Stuff accumulates, makes clutter, and takes up space. For me, the stories that go with the stuff are more important. I am writing some of the stories and putting them in a notebook. They won't take up much space. As I followed the thread of this story, I finished a shawl. Maybe I'll dust another day. 


  1. gorgeous shawl and I loved your story. I too have lots of stories many of them told to me by my gram and I've been writing them down as well as my own childhood memories. Sometimes I repeat myself...however I like knowing I've documented what I feel is important.

  2. looks like you have your priorities straight! Love the story....and the mystery. And I like your ending!!! I'm sure the finch looked just like the one at your feeder.....and of course, your Agatha was a bird-watcher!!! It's an inherited trait, right?

  3. What a wonderful story. I recently finished this same shawl and have started another one that will go to a friend.