Friday Night Family Heirlooms… telling their stories: Aunt Lena’s Sewing Cabinet
When “heirlooms” aren’t identified, and their stories never told, they often become items tossed or sold – as they have no history, no ties to the family. So take the time to identify your family heirlooms history and record your memories so the family treasures aren’t tossed in the trash. They are just as valuable as your family photographs and also need to be documented. Sometimes it’s not even the value of the item in question… it’s the story which holds the value!
Aunt Lena’s “Sewing Cabinet”
This somewhat simple sewing cabinet belonged to my great aunt… Lena McKinley Van Dusen of Atlanta, Georgia. Aunt Lena was my mother’s favorite aunt and she looked forward to the two weeks she spent with her every summer in Atlanta. Lena lived in a spacious home overlooking Grant Park Zoo. I also remember visiting her house in Atlanta, but I found her to be a stern woman… she had no children so she didn’t tolerate any nonsense from me or allow me snooping around her house… as she called it! I did find her home very interesting with the many antiques in her living room and yes I liked to snoop and look at them, but somehow she always caught me and pretty much dragged me back, by my ear… to where I was allowed to be… as she said!
As a little girl, I loved arranging my mother’s spools and opening and closing the little table. Whenever I sew I often think of Aunt Lena and Mama… and all this little cabinet witnessed as they sewed!
It was never said who specifically taught Aunt Lena to sew, but I’m sure she learned early in life as her mother died when she was a young girl of about sixteen… and being the oldest of eight, and the oldest daughter… she soon became in charge of the household. My grandfather, Edgar McKinley, being the youngest… looked more to her as a mother and they remained close for the rest of their lives.
Every summer Lena came to visit her brother Edgar’s farm in Siloam, Georgia to spend time with him and his family. Those summer trips were how Mama became close to her aunt and looked up to her as it seemed Lena could do everything; she was a woman who liked to be in charge. Besides knowing her way around a needle and thread, she also knew how to use a hammer and saw; one summer trip she cut and built a doorway in their dining room. There had never been a doorway to go into the back room… having to go through the bedroom and a back hallway to reach the back room; my grandmother wanted a doorway in the dining room! Yes, my grandfather could have done that, but he had never given in to grandmama’s wants, but Lena put her foot down, so to speak, and cut the wall to make an opening. I think granddaddy ended up finishing the project that she started, and grandmamma finally got her door!
It was often in the fall when Lena came, usually during hog killing time… probably reminded her of the old days and she knew there would be specialty dishes served that night; brains and eggs were always served on the night of the kill! My mother has often mentioned that to me and remembered how good it was… I’ll just take her word for it, I’m definitely not trying that!
Lena felt her brother cured the best hams around; they were so good that she often had requests from her friends in Atlanta to bring back hams! Mama recalls that people from Atlanta even stopped to buy hams from him if they were in the area; one year he sold all his hams… it must have been a meatless winter as he didn’t like beef – he was a pork only man!
On many of those visits to their farm, Lena sewed while there, even making mama a white dress for my mother’s graduation. I’m not quite sure why she made it instead of my grandmother, as she also sewed, but I’m thinking maybe because Lena had brought the white cloth. My grandmother didn’t often have the luxury of buying new material, she used and reused what she had. The one thing mama didn’t like about dresses made for her and has never forgotten…. they were always too big. She wanted her clothes to fit, never hanging on her, but there was nothing she could do but wear them! Back then, they always made your clothes big…. why…. so you could grow into them… giving you more “wear” time!
Mama tells me that she only wore that white graduation dress once, well maybe twice, as she was married the night before graduation and it was the only white dress she had… So! But after graduation, the white dress was done… and I can bet money that my grandmother cut that dress up later to reuse as backing on one of her many quilts.
When Mama spent time with Aunt Lena in Atlanta she remembers her using this sewing cabinet as she sewed. Lena made all her clothes and most likely sewed for her sister Emma as they were very close. It was after my mother married, that one day when she visited, she gave it to mama. She knew my mother sewed often, as she made all her own clothes and mine. The cabinet was again going to a “sewer.” Later after my mother stopped sewing, she gave it to me to continue keeping it in the family. Now, who will I pass it to? I have five granddaughters… hopefully one of them will want to sew.
When Mama spent time with Aunt Lena in Atlanta she remembers her using this sewing cabinet as she sewed. Lena made all her clothes and most likely sewed for her sister Emma as they were very close. It was after my mother married, that one day when she visited, she gave it to mama. She knew my mother sewed often, as she made all her own clothes and mine. The cabinet was again going to a “sewer.” Later after my mother stopped sewing, she gave it to me to continue keeping it in the family. Now, who will I pass it to?In trying to research this sewing cabinet, I found several types… some fancy… some not. Lena’s cabinet is more on the plain side and I remember it painted orange when it was given to my mother. Over the years my mother repainted it gray and I have now repainted it a barn red, but I just feel like it needs something…. but what?
In trying to research this sewing cabinet, I found several types… some fancy… some not. Lena’s cabinet is more on the plain side and I remember it painted orange when it was given to my mother. Over the years my mother repainted it gray and I have now repainted it a barn red, but I just feel like it needs something…. but what?
I have thought through the years that this sewing cabinet needs a makeover, maybe a design on the front, so I’m leaning toward decoupaging some sort of sewing designs on the front… Any suggestions??? I’m open to hearing from you… I know some of you will have ideas!
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