Fair warning: if you’re the sentimental type, you might need tissues when reading this post. I’m about to drivel on about a crocheted cape.
I’m a lover of old things. There’s just something about things with history that I connect to. Make that old thing a family handmade hand-me-down and you’ve got me just about as sentimental as they come. I recently learned I have an extra special heirloom from someone who is no longer with us, which has sent me straight over the sentimental edge.
As I was preparing to write this post I asked my mom to drop off our old family photo album so I could show you all a couple of photos. It was going to be a super sweet post about crocheted nostalgia and how quick kids outgrow handmade things. That was until my mom stopped by.
Who made my crocheted cape?
Mom’s visit to drop off the photos resulted in a surprise I didn’t expect. When I said, “remind me which aunt made this for me,” she responded, “Great-grandma made it.” My dad has 10 sisters, I was certain one of them had made that sweet little cape. I love all my aunts to pieces but to learn it was my great-grandma who made it, it suddenly had a whole lot more meaning.
I was rather lucky to have my great-grandmother, Cornelia, in my life until I was in 3rd grade. She was the child of Dutch immigrants and born here in the U.S. in 1907. She married my great-grandfather, Syril, in 1932, a few years after he too emigrated from Holland. They had a small family farm and stand in Irondequoit, NY—the slightest whiff of green grapes takes me back to visits with her in an instant. Cornelia was of a generation that made things out of necessity, not for pleasure the way so many of us do today. But, knowing she was still making sweet things for her great-grandchildren well into her 70s, I like to imagine she quite enjoyed it.
As a maker, I know the love and intention that goes into handmade gifts. There’s a whole lot of hope that the recipient will appreciate the thought and time that goes into gifts, too. To know now that I have something made just for me by my great-grandmother, I’m just an absolute a puddle of hand stitched emotions over here. It’s like getting a little hug from her long after she left us.
How was my crocheted cape made?
My bespoke pink crocheted cape has faded over the last 40 years. At some point it was bleached, it’s felted a bit (my mom is notorious for washing wool, argh!), and it’s lost a few pom poms. I don’t care in the slightest, though. It’s still just as sweet. It’s a simple rectangle of clustered double crochet columns. It was worked from the neck down before a scalloped edge was added. Along the neckline is a ridge of eyelets to allow for a long crochet chain to lace through. I think there might have been two crochet chains at one point from looking at the original photo. I count four pom poms hanging off the ties back then, but just one remains today. From the neck up another rectangle was worked with the same columns of double crochets. Then, a simple seam long the final edge forms that rectangle into the hood. Finally, it’s topped with one last pom pom off the tip of the hood.
When does a handmade gift become an heirloom?
Oftentimes, the term heirloom is attached to grand family treasures. Those expensive items family members call dibs on when dividing up an estate. Yet, if you look at the dictionary definition of heirloom, value isn’t mentioned. Simply passing something to the next generation is what makes an heirloom an heirloom. So in 2004 when I put my crocheted cape on my daughter, it went from being a handmade gift to a family heirloom. (Cue the waterworks.) I didn’t know at the time that it was from one of our original family makers, but oh how I’ll cherish this photo of Lauren wearing it even more now.
I wish my great-grandmother had lived long enough to meet her great-great-granddaughter Lauren, she’s a maker too. You can be sure that I’ll be taking extra care to keep those last two pom poms in tack, and this cape won’t go near a washing machine again. Kept in a cedar chest away from moths, it should be ready for the next generation to wear when the time comes.
Are you a lover of old things too? Do you have a handmade heirloom you cherish? I’d love to hear about your special things! Please share in the comments below and follow #raisedbyamaker on social media as we celebrate the ones who taught us our crafts.
Former Editorial Director, Books