I've said it before - stitching and stretching are part of my DNA. I was born into this world blessed with inspiring women in my family tree. Leading up to this Mother's Day, I sat down with my mom and asked her to reflect on the generational movers and makers in our family. (Spoiler alert: that beautiful woman in the pic above is my mom and she made that outfit!)
Mover and Maker: Nonna
My mom's mother, my Nonna (Italian for grandmother), was quite the mover and maker. She learned to sew at an early age, and started working in a clothing factory when she was in her teens. According to my mom, Nonna sewed bits and pieces of garments, like sleeves, for instance, and was paid per piece. Being a fast and accurate seamstress was, therefore, the goal.
Nonna became very fast and very accurate. In fact, by the time she left the factory to have children, she was earning more money than my Nonno, her husband, who was a truck driver. You'd think that with this efficiency, she was the 'sit down, put in your hours and not say a peep' type of employee. But mom told me a different side of the story too.
For one thing, Nonna advocated for her peers. Feeling that the she and her colleagues at the factory needed support and a voice, she started a women's union while she worked there. She was also quite the clever employee. Whenever the opportunity came to deliver garments to the wealthier clientele at their homes, Nonna was the first to volunteer her services. Instead of using the bus fare that her boss gave her to make the deliveries, Nonna would walk the route and pocket the bus fare to add to her savings instead.
I always knew that Nonna sewed, though I didn't know all the facts until recently. Turns out sewing was in her genes too - her sister, Molly, was an haut couturier seamstress. Molly specialized in intricate garments, like wedding dresses, and sewed my mother's wedding dress in 1971. In 2012, when I got married, I had the honor of wearing the same handmade dress that Molly made for my mom, though with a few alterations. There are few words to describe the blessing of having the opportunity to wear a keepsake imbued with incredible handmade love on such a special occasion.
The 'maker' genes aren't the only ones passed down from this side of the family. Nonna also liked to 'move.' She practiced yoga.
Now, I'm not talking about chair yoga or yoga for seniors. Nonna practiced full-on, sun salutation, flow yoga everyday for over 50 years. (Interesting tid bit: I would say that from the looks of it, Nonna's style of yoga was most closely related to Sivananda. And it just so happens that around the time she started practicing, Swami Vishnudevanandra, a direct disciple of Swami Sivananda, traveled from India to Montreal, where she lived, to set up the very first Sivananda Yoga Vedanta Center in the West in 1959. I am making some assumptions here, but it kinda sounds like Nonna learned yoga from the person that brought this style to the West, right? Or at least from someone who learned directly from Vishnudevanada? So cool to speculate about, even if it's just an assumption...)
Back to her dedication to the practice. When I say she practiced everyday, I mean she practiced every, single day. She took classes, followed a yoga and nutrition television program, and rolled out her mat in the basement to practice by herself. She regarded yoga, and the breath work she learned to complement the practice, as the secret to her youthfulness, health and wellbeing. I remember her saying that if she didn't practice yoga in the morning, she felt like she was 90 years old, when in fact she was 90 years old. When I started getting into yoga in my 20s, Nonna could out handstand me, and out split me. I still cannot get into the splits the way she could! She is the original mover in our generational lineage, and boy is it awesome to carry on the tradition of saluting the sun in her honor.
I began 2017 with the desire to explore the generational 'maker' DNA that I received from my dad's mom, my Nanny. Nanny's number one hobby was knitting. (Okay, maybe knitting and baking were tied for number one!) Learning to become proficient with knitting is my current goal.
We're not exactly sure how Nanny learned how to knit. My mom thinks she was self-taught, and we can be sure there was no YouTube videos at the time. I cannot begin to imagine teaching myself to knit from books. I need three dimensional demonstrations of knitting techniques to really comprehend how to do something. But Nanny was certainly perseverant, and she loved challenging her mind with puzzles, so it's not too difficult to imagine her teaching herself to knit from books.
Knitting has a stereotypical reputation for being a grandmother's hobby. Even now, when it is popular among a younger crowd, knitting is still often regarded as a granny activity. Nanny fit the stereotype. She was #nevernotknitting, and her pieces were amazing. Intricately patterned sweaters and knitwear sets for the whole family -there wasn't a celebration that passed without Nanny gifting a handmade article. My father still has some of the sweaters she knit for him (one pictured below), and other pieces are being saved for future generations of our family.
My parents know that Nanny knit to relieve arthritis pain in her hands. My dad says she also knit because making gifts was more cost-friendly than buying gifts. We all agree that she got incredible joy out of knitting, though we can't recollect her ever making something for herself. Knitting was a selfless hobby that kept her hands moving, her brain active, and her spirit happy.
Sadly, I did not get into knitting when Nanny was alive. I would love to have learned a thing or two (or everything) from her! She was so patient, and more knowledgeable than any YouTube video I can find. She would have been the best teacher. That being said, genes are undeniable. So while I can't learn directly from her, I know that I definitely inherited some of Nanny's knitting skill, and I am gratefully determined to follow in her stitchwork legacy.
Mover and Maker: Mom
When my mom went to high school, she was taught the basics of sewing, knitting and crochet. But it wasn't until she started teaching grade school that she felt the need to call on her skills.
Teaching, in addition to moving and making, runs in the family. My sister, Jennifer, is a school teacher (and yogini!). She also happens to be the most stylish person in our family. Jennifer has a different outfit for every day of the school year, and she loves to shop. Turns out, my mom had the same desire to be stylish when she was teaching, but instead of shopping for clothes, my mom decided to make them.
My mom recalls that patterns were the most expensive part of the process. She sewed from Simplicity and McCalls patterns, choosing the ones that had versatility - like a dress and skirt in one. She says the most nerve-wracking part of the process was having her mom looking over her shoulder when she'd sew. But, when the pattern called for something challenging, she was really thankful to have Nonna's help.
I can totally relate to this last bit. I have been so grateful for my mom's guidance in sewing. She taught me how to sew back in high school, but it hasn't been until recently that I've taken the hobby back up. She has been with me every step of the way, from talking about ideas, to interpreting patterns, to picking out material, to making the actual stitches. We even bought the same sewing machine!
Prior to my sister and I being born, my dad also gave my mom reason to sew. Mostly, she made him ties out of the most outrageous fabric. In the early 70s, he came to her with an idea that she implemented - to covert pants into shorts with the use of a zipper. When he wore the convertible pants, people were amazed at the ingenuity. My parents tried to sell the idea to clothing companies, but no one was interested. It looks like someone else had the same genius idea, because these days, convertible pants can be bought in any outdoor outfitter.
Today, 'moving' takes center stage with mom (when I'm not asking for her guidance with stitching!) When my parents became semi-retired, they decided to make yoga a part of their day. Mom says their impetus to practice yoga came from seeing the positive influence it had on Nonna's life. They want to live full, happy, healthy lives, and yoga seems to fit right into that picture. I couldn't agree more.
Generational Movers and Makers
When I'm asked how I became interested in stitching and stretching, I like to say 'it runs in the family.' After all, genes have a lot to do with a person's makeup. In my case, stitching and stretching are like traditions passed down through the generations. But there's more to it than that. Knowing that the incredible women in my family have found so much joy in these hobbies is an inspiration. Learning the details about how they came to these interests is motivating and encouraging. I treasure the spark that they have ignited in me, and the skills that they have ingrained in my DNA.
On this Mother's Day, I'd like to wish all mover and maker moms out there a wonderful day. Celebrate your genes, and the beautiful women who have come before you! To my mom, I'd like to say and extra BIG thank you. It was so much fun to hear these stories, and to write about the generational movers and makers in our family. I feel blessed to keep these stitch and stretch traditions going alongside you, mom!