Memories of Cloth
Cloth covers us and keeps us warm, it decorates our home, and it helps keeps us cozy on cold winter nights. Cloth also holds onto memories, both large and small. My wedding dress brings back memories of hot weather and butterflies in my stomach, while my favorite flannel shirt makes me think of trips to the pumpkin patch. Sometimes, the memories are bittersweet, as with my late father’s flannel shirts.
My dad was—and still is—my hero, and I will never get tired of people telling me how much I’m like him. When he died 9 years ago, I was grief-stricken and held on to whatever pieces of him I could find, including his favorite flannel nightshirts. These shirts are big, warm, and comfortable, just like him. I initially stuffed them in a reusable grocery bag with a vague intention of turning them into pillows at some point, but they sat in that bag for years because the thought of cutting into Daddy’s shirts was still too painful. That is, until last Christmas.
Last Christmas was also H’s first Christmas, and I was tasked with finding him a stocking. Nothing at the stores felt right, and even the custom-made offerings on Etsy seemed wrong, so I put it off. As I decorated the house and baked gingersnap cookies (my dad’s favorite), I was keenly aware that my dad wouldn’t be around for H’s first Christmas or any Christmas after. Then, while hiding some Christmas presents from my husband, I found the bag with my dad’s shirts and suddenly I had an idea: What if I made H a stocking using one of my dad’s shirts? That way, a part of my dad would be around this Christmas and every Christmas after.
Although the shirts were large, I knew they didn’t contain enough fabric to easily make a full stocking with lining, so I took a small snip from each shirt and went fabric shopping. I found the perfect fabric for H, a blue-and-gray material adorned with images of snowflakes and bears. It was sweet without being too childlike and matched perfectly the blue-flannel sample I had brought. Another fabric—one covered in cardinals—caught my eye. It also coordinated perfectly with one of the samples, so I decided then and there to retire my old stocking and make one for myself, too.
For my son’s stocking, I decided to use a different dominant fabric on each side. That way, if at some point he decided he was too grown up for bears, he could flip it around and have a plaid stocking accented by bears. For my stocking, I used the cardinal fabric as the dominant on both sides and my dad’s flannel on only the cuff.
The finished stockings are far from perfect—the toes are a little wonky—and one of these days, I’ll seam rip and resew them, but I couldn’t love them more. When I look at them, I see my dad on Christmas morning in his flannel shirt smiling and laughing as we open presents and drink cocoa. I can hear his voice and I can feel his hug. Those stockings are a testament to the power of cloth.
I am not the first to figure this out. For centuries, special bits of cloth have been repurposed and reused in loving ways. Wedding dresses become christening gowns and favorite shirts become rag rugs or quilts, and those items are, in turn, loved and treasured. Someday, I will become a memory, and when I do, I hope the cloth I loved and the cloth I made is a comfort to those I leave behind.
Featured Image: Baby Christina and her dad in 1985; Christina with her own baby 32 years later.