by Kathy Lundgren
Kathy Lundgren is an avid organizer of Transition Town Media Reskilling events.
Reskilling, which is “Transition-speak” for handcrafting of household and community basic needs, is something I’ve always loved. I had the great good fortune to spend my elementary school years in the home of my slightly Victorian grandmother.
Grandma was five at the end of Queen Victoria’s life. She was sent to live with her maiden aunts at age 12 when her mother died. I’m pretty sure those aunts further Victorian-ized her. As a “well-to-do young lady”, she learned, and practiced the needle arts, which she taught to me. In her time, the main option for a young lady was to marry and be a housewife and mother. As an “upper-middle-class person” community service was also expected. Grandma fulfilled hers through a major fundraising campaign for Taylor Hospital during the early 1950s.
Grandma literally lived by the saying, “idle hands are the Devil’s workshop.” Grandma and her best friend Aunt Margaret were always needle pointing or embroidering or making something beautiful with their hands. Grandma knitted and put crochet edges to her creations.
She was always knitting baby booties or baby blankets for somebody. She loved to bake and make big pots of vegetable soup. Grandma specialized in pies and cakes, dinner and breakfast. But I remember most the joy and companionship of sitting on the little love seat couch with her, learning to knit, crochet and embroider.
One Christmas I got a wide yellow spool with nails in a circle that you twine cotton string on to knit a long tube. The tube went down through the center of the spool. It was a great lesson in how knitting works, making the actual task of knitting on needles so much easier for me to quickly grasp later on.
The next Christmas I also got a little square metal loom and loops to weave potholders. Unfortunately the loops were of made of nylon, making the potholders subject to melting and burning: poor qualities in a potholder! I later discovered chunky cotton loops and, during the 70s I made lots of cotton potholders. Recently I’ve found 100% wool loops. They are expensive, but today all of our potholders are wool, woven by me on my little metal loom, just like the one I learned on in my Grandmothers living room.
Grandma taught me to knit slippers. She and Aunt Margaret both knitted the same style. Grandma knitted for all of us and we would get them as Christmas gifts. When they wore through, she would crochet swirl patches on the bottom to repair them. This past Christmas I had the great pleasure of knitting a pair of Grandma-styled slippers for my oldest brother. It may have been one of the most exciting gifts I have ever given to anyone.
During our elementary school years we kids had so much fun with paper, string, glue, scissors, tape, cardboard, pencils and paints. Our middle brother and I loved to put together punch-out paper models; I especially remember the paper lunar module model we made during the time of the Apollo Space flights, but we made cars and, of course, paper dolls were a major delight. I absolutely loved – and still love punch out paper projects of any type.
Up at my friend Debbie’s house, just two houses away, her mom sewed dresses for Debbie and her sister Donna. I remember that Mrs. B. smocked a red dress to make a beautiful gathered yoke on it for Debbie. Donna, Debbie and I collaborated to make a drawstring bag for Mrs. B’s haircurlers as a Mother’s Day gift. I remember hiding up in the attic as we attached the sequins with our thread and the little glass beads, one for every sequin. Every stitch was made by hand.
Debbie and I styled dresses and hat sets for our troll dolls. They were the cutest little ensembles and, according to Debbie, her son also learned to sew that way! You can trace a troll doll onto fabric and add a seam allowance, a bit for the hem and a bit for the neckline. Sew them together and hem all the edges. For the hat, cut two rectangles, trimmed so they narrow as they go up. Sew two side seams and hem the bottom opening and the smaller top opening. The finished hat is a little bit like a funnel; thread the trolls hair through the hat, put the dress on and voila: a mod, absolutely adorable sixties-style ensemble for a troll doll.
We moved to Wilmington because my dad had set up his new psychiatry office there. Mom and Dad bought a new sewing machine with its own table that looked like a desk with drawers down the left side.
I badly wanted to sew a dress. Mom and I went to the store to buy a pattern and some fabric. To keep it simple we chose a long sleeved shift style dress. I chose paisley fabric in teal green with maroon, red, black, yellow and white. It was mostly teal green with the other colors as accents. As soon as possible I put that fabric down on the floor, cut the pieces out, sewed the dress together and put the zipper in the back. I put the collar-facing in and hemmed the sleeves. The second I was done I took the dress to show my mom. I remember her stunned expression. She literally could not believe I had made my dress, but there it was. She said “Kathy did you follow the instructions?” I asked, “What instructions?” and she showed me the folded up instruction sheet I had overlooked in the pattern envelope. When I put the dress on we saw that it had ‘a pull’; the fabric from the bottom of the zipper up toward the underarm didn’t quite lay right, but, because it was in the back, I couldn’t have cared less. I wore that dress to school the very next day and felt tremendously proud that I could make my own dress.
My hand skills were no surprise to Grandma, but without sewing experience she really couldn’t help me on my projects. A girlfriend was a good stitcher so we shared that hobby in common. In Junior High we had mandatory Home Economics class. Every girl in the school district sewed a skirt in 7th grade, a jumper in 8th grade and a free choice project in 9th grade. My free choice was a sailor styled top in medium blue with white braid as stripes around the square collar in the back. I sewed shorts sets, pajamas and a long dress to wear on a school trip to France. I remember a couple of other dresses, some very wide-legged pants in a plush fabric and I sewed a jacket for my friend Nancy. I also sewed baby outfits for our next door neighbor’s grandchild. Years later, when our nephews were born, I used the same pattern to make sweatshirt material baby outfits that were super cozy.
As I grew up, I poured my love of handwork into all kinds of projects: embroidery on jeans during the early 70s; macramé. I’ve always loved three-dimensional pieces and am willing to spend more time on those. During my adult years I discovered that I love to use scraps to make patchwork designs for pillows and other useful projects.
It’s my love of sewing and my desire to make patchwork pillows as a side income that led me to create TTM’s Reskilling for Transition working group. Recently, after organizing several dozen TTM Reskillling Workshops on many a topic, I finally found the way to live my passion. I host a twice monthly DIY Sewing Workshop where I am beginning my dream business: Kathy’s Nine-Patch Pillows.
Transition Town Media Reskilling workshops, offered by TTM year-round are a great way to connect with these beautiful traditions, our neighbors and friends, and best of all – to connect to the child within.