Friday, February 11, 2011

Craft Gene Hiding in the Family Tree

Most of us who are creative can remember when we first started making things. Some of us can't remember a time when we didn't make things. Do you ever stop to think about the family members who have influenced your creativity or if maybe there is a "craft gene" hiding in your family tree?
When I was growing up,  I spent hours in my room drawing, coloring and writing. I always took art classes in school.  Even though there wasn't anyone in my family who would have called themselves an "artist", there was definitely some creativity floating around. My mom took a few art classes through the junior college when she was in her 30's. My uncle Dan was (and is) talented at painting and drawing, and my paternal grandma knitted, crocheted and embroidered.

Photo by Geral A. Hiebert 1978
But when I think back, it was my great grandma who was the most actively crafty/creative. Grandma Porter was a rag rug weaver. She weaved on a big loom that had belonged to her mother who bought it from an upholstery factory.  I don’t know how old she was when she learned how to weave, but by the time I came along, weaving was a huge part of who she was.
In the 1970's she and my great granddad moved from their farm into a house in the "city". It was the first time they had electricity and indoor plumbing - no more outhouse! They probably thought they were living the high life when they moved into that little house in Butler, Missouri. 
The single car garage had a separate workshop that included a wood stove and plenty of room for Grandma's loom and the piles of discarded garments waiting to have buttons, zippers and hooks, removed so they could be cut into strips and made into rugs. The shelves of her shop were lined with jars of buttons and hardware that had been removed from the clothes. 

We always knew that when we outgrew our clothes or they were too worn out, we would just put them in the carpet rag pile. One of the reasons I have such a hard time getting rid of my old clothes now is that the first 29 years of my life were spent saving old clothes so they could be ‘upcycled’ - a word that didn’t exist back then - into functional, wonderful rag rugs.

From my earliest memories, I remember Grandma Porter either weaving, selling rugs or tearing strips to use in making rugs. There were many conversations in my family centered around weaving: about rug colors, who wanted to buy rugs, what rugs were made of, what garment might make a pretty stripe in a rug. She even made rugs out of old pantyhose, which I thought was really funny when I was a kid.  Those were some amazingly sturdy rugs! My mom once had a light blue tarry cloth robe that she loved.  She wore it until it had holes and was falling apart. Knowing how much my mom loved her robe, Grandma Porter made a rug for her out of it. Mom was able to enjoy her robe in a whole new way.

My grandma (Grandma Porter's daughter) would return from a visit "down home" with the back seat of her car piled with rag rugs to sell.   Selling rugs helped supplement Grandma Porter's income. She sold the big ones for $8 each. Recently, I was looking on the Internet and found similar rugs that were selling for $75-$95 a piece. Grandma would have never imagined that someone would pay such a high price for a rug.
When the grand kids got older, we got to pick a rug for our birthday - a treat that was wasted on me. I loved the rugs, but they were always around and I couldn't appreciate the labor and skill involved in these amazing works. 

Grandma Porter died in 1992, a couple weeks shy of her 97th birthday. The things I inherited from her was a big jar of buttons that serve as a reminder of Grandma and her craft, a pile of woven rag rugs and I suspect, the burning desire to create things with my own two hands. 


Martha Winger said...

What a wonderful tribute to your GG! We had those rugs growing up, too! I'm curious now which family member made them.

Tinkered Art said...

Lovely posting - brings back lots of memories - my mother was a seamstress made most of our clothes. She didn't make the rugs but she would sew together all the scraps and remnants. My brother and I had the task of rolling them into these large balls that she gave to a woman in town that made the rugs. One year she surprised all of us by having a rug made that contained all the scraps from our individual garments she had made. Still have and treasure that rug today.

Michelle said...

I loved reading this post.. brought back memories for me.. my grandma made these rugs..and crocheted and we did all types of craft things when we visited her. My cousin and I were always at the table working on whatever project she had for us.. we did plastic canvas and made those hats out of recycled tin cans little angels out of beads... I think I will call him and remind him of all those good times too :)

Thank you!

Laura P said...

Hi Martha, Suzanne and Michelle!

Thank you for stopping by and sharing your memories. Aren't we so blessed to have had these rugs (and the people who made them) in our lives?!

Suzanne-I love that your mom had a rug made from scraps from clothes she made for you. That is such a great way to use up extra fabric and provide an amazing memory.

Michelle - that's neat that you spent time making so many different crafts at your grandma's house. What a great thing for kids to learn.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Laura!
Kerri H.

Laura P said...

Thanks, Kerri! :)

georgene lockwood said...

What a touching tribute to your grandma. One of mine was a great crocheter, the other did needlepoint. It must be in our blood. My Mom's going to be 92 next month and can no longer remember how to crochet (dementia) although she has the desire now and then. I'm crocheting her a scarf as we "speak." The gifts our mothers and grandmothers gave us are priceless, even if we didn't use them right away .

Kelly said...

What a great post!

Beth said...

Wow Laura, this is such a neat story. I'm so glad you shared it :)