The Unexpected Heirloom

I like to think that everything I have created as a gift for someone will last forever, but the fact is that some items are more likely to be cherished and passed down than others. And sometimes it’s not what you expect at all.

For instance I made a massive multi-colored, multi-striped afghan for my niece when she was born, and my sister has it stashed away in a cedar chest. The quilted potholder that I made for her, maybe not so much. But it will definitely live a useful life.

I am not sure where an item crosses the line from useful to heirloom, but I know that it’s not a strict line. For instance, my mother embroidered dish towels for me years ago. They were simple and pretty, and very useful, but I could not bring myself to use them as dish towels. Into my cedar chest they went.

There is no doubt that many heirloom items are a prodigious undertaking. However, it’s just as likely that many simple handsewn household items can take on a trousseau-like quality: a simple embroidered set of pillow cases; upcycled vintage tea towels embellished with needle and thread; or a sweetly stitched skirt. Anything with beading, embroidery, or handstitching is always a good bet!

Most of the items that we sew for gifts are meant to be used, rather than set aside, but there’s always that occasional unexpected heirloom item, like my mother’s dish towels, which will live to be enjoyed by generations after mine.

Do you have a gift you made that turned unexpectedly heirloom on you? I would love to know! Leave a comment below!

Happy stitching!

 

 

 

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Amber

About Amber

Amber Eden is the editor of Stitch and SewDaily.com. She LOVES sewing and editing Stitch and SewDaily.com. She also loves dance, yoga, iced decaf triple espressos, and her two golden retrievers. She divides her time between Boston and New York.

20 thoughts on “The Unexpected Heirloom

  1. i just wanted to say: don’t put things away too long…
    i had to clear out my grandparents’ house a few years ago and found:
    – dozens of sheets / dishtowels / tablecloths / etc that were turned, i.e. cut in two – sewn together again with the old edges now on the inside – so give extra use when the center became threadbare
    – piles and piles of beautifully embroidered cotton and linen bedsheets, handtowels, dishtowels and things from my great great grandmothers, great grandmothers, great great aunts, great aunts and finally from my grandmother. that were never used.
    they were saved and saved, and everyone used the old old threadbare ones. i now have stacks of these – which I USE! i have tried passing them on to cousins and nieces but they would rather have new colorful ones in the latest fabrics and replace them after a few years with different colors and other easy-wash / non-iron fabrics. if you have hand-me-downs you cherish – put a few aside for your daughters, and use and ENJOY the rest! i have some nice embroidered towels out for guests – and to show – i use these but not for everything, – and an easy-wash – replaceable one next to it for the dirty jobs. works well for me.

  2. I have whole different approach. I don’t want to make heirlooms. I want people to use what I make for them. I made so many crocheted baby sets when my friends and I were having kids, and I never even saw the babies in them. Didn’t even use them for good to go to church. Except for one little boy that I made a really cool afghan for. He dragged that thing around with him and until it was nearly in tatters. His mom asked if I could do anything to make it last longer. The best I could do was to cut what was left into a couple of chunks and put blanket binding on it. When I think of all the things I have made for people, that one is one that stands out and gives me happy memories. The others – not so much.

  3. My grandmother embroidered a cute set of pillow cases for me as a wedding gift. Wish I had had the forethought to realize the thread woukd eventually wear out for, alas, I used the cases and no longer have them!

  4. I made Advent calendars for the families of my 4 children when my grandchildren were small. Those grandchildren are now all teenagers and young adults and the calendars are still hanging up during the holidays. Although I don’t think they fight over moving the star each day until Christmas.

  5. I made Advent Calendars for my grand children when they were small. They would fight over whose turn it was to move the star each day toward Christmas. (4 families, 10 grandchildren I calendar per family). They are now all teenagers and young adults but the calendars are still up ever year for Christmas.

  6. Please, don’t put cotton items in a cedar chest without protection from the unfinished wood walls. Wood is acidic! Instead, put the item in a cotton pillow case type covering that you wash periodically to remove acid.
    As one who studies old quilts, I want to warn you against storage of cotton in plastic, unfinished wood, or regular cardboard boxes. The fold lines that touch these acidic surfaces will degrade.

  7. What was unexpected for me was that I wouldn’t have any heirlooms. Like you, I had cherished items from my grandmother and mother stored away in my cedar chest. Hurricane Katrina took them away in a heartbeat. My advice? Use and enjoy these things; their use will serve to remind you of the loved ones who provided them. When memories are all that is left, I realize that’s all that is needed. The items are just “things.”

  8. I have several heirlooms that my mother put away to remember my grandma by. But because she was not a packrat, or maybe because some of the pillowcases had degraded, she only kept one of each and now the fabric is dry rotted but the handwork is still good. These are hand-embroidered/crocheted and beautiful and I would love to use the trim on something that I and my daughters could use and love. Anyone have ideas on how to use vintage pillowcase or other handmade trim on something new?

  9. I was in afghan mode with my early crochet skills and made one for my father in law and his partner. He always kept the house so cold and I thought she’d like a lap blanket because she didn’t get around too well. Several years later after he passed away we found it, and many other gifts stashed away with the gift cards still attached. I can’t tell you how hurt I was that it was never used or enjoyed. I deliberately chose washable, dryable acrylic yarn and told him it was completely machine wash and dryable and that he should fo ahead and use it. It wouldn’t be spoiled by spills. I now use and enjoy it but I was proud of how well that early effort turned out and countless hours of labor went into it and it was like a slap in the face to find it stuck in a closet. Of course there were numerous other items, new towels, slippers etc. that he really needed because the ones he used were falling apart, but because of the labor of love that it was this hurt me all the more. If you receive such a gift, be sure to get it out at least when the maker visits, even if you don’t care for it. After a few times I think you can make it disappear. In my case it was a fairly simple afghan in a denim blue color yarn with an interesting texture. Nothing that could offend,especially since my father in law was color blind!

  10. I was in afghan mode with my early crochet skills and made one for my father in law and his partner. He always kept the house so cold and I thought she’d like a lap blanket because she didn’t get around too well. Several years later after he passed away we found it, and many other gifts stashed away with the gift cards still attached. I can’t tell you how hurt I was that it was never used or enjoyed. I deliberately chose washable, dryable acrylic yarn and told him it was completely machine wash and dryable and that he should fo ahead and use it. It wouldn’t be spoiled by spills. I now use and enjoy it but I was proud of how well that early effort turned out and countless hours of labor went into it and it was like a slap in the face to find it stuck in a closet. Of course there were numerous other items, new towels, slippers etc. that he really needed because the ones he used were falling apart, but because of the labor of love that it was this hurt me all the more. If you receive such a gift, be sure to get it out at least when the maker visits, even if you don’t care for it. After a few times I think you can make it disappear. In my case it was a fairly simple afghan in a denim blue color yarn with an interesting texture. Nothing that could offend,especially since my father in law was color blind!

  11. I may not use things to their full extent but I put them out. Embroidered dish towels would be out and perhaos used for drying dished but not used to scrub dirty dishes. The first hand quilt I made I gave to my daughter – she uses it on the couch but doesn’t bring it camping. These things should bring us joy everyday, and if taken care of, they will last a long time.

  12. I don’t know if anything I’ve made has turned heirloom but I have been making an effort to make a list of Crafts of Our Ancestors and have asked my family to take pictures of things they have that were made for them and by whom so that as a family, we can see and enjoy the handiwork of our mothers and fathers.

  13. A thought about those handcrafted gifts: my grandmother embroidered pillowslips for decades, until very late in life, and they went into our “hope” chests. Now they are at least 50 years old, and wearing out, but I think that despite the work she put into them, she would be pleased to know that I use them. (And yes, iron them.) What I’m trying to decide is what to do with the embroidered panels when the pillowslips are too worn to use. Skirts for angel Christmas tree ornaments, perhaps?

  14. My sister and I taught my niece to crochet when she was 8. The only real thing she ever crochet that I know of was a hairpin lace afgan. It was small and very crooked but stitched with love. I was pregnant with my first child and she made for me and told me it was”for my daughters, daughter”. My first child was a son however I made sure that he had pictures made with that crooked small hairpin lace afgan. Two years later I was blessed with a daughter as well. I did the same thing with my daughter and that little afgan but then put it away. Eight years ago I gifted it to my daughter who was pregnat with her first child, a daughter. She was told the story that it was made for this child, her daughter, all those years ago. She too used the afgan and had pictures of my granddaugher with it just so that the niece knew it had finally reached its rightful owner. She has put it away yet again in hopes of passing it down to her someday granddaughter!

  15. My sister and I taught my niece to crochet when she was 8. The only real thing she ever crochet that I know of was a hairpin lace afgan. It was small and very crooked but stitched with love. I was pregnant with my first child and she made for me and told me it was”for my daughters, daughter”. My first child was a son however I made sure that he had pictures made with that crooked small hairpin lace afgan. Two years later I was blessed with a daughter as well. I did the same thing with my daughter and that little afgan but then put it away. Eight years ago I gifted it to my daughter who was pregnat with her first child, a daughter. She was told the story that it was made for this child, her daughter, all those years ago. She too used the afgan and had pictures of my granddaugher with it just so that the niece knew it had finally reached its rightful owner. She has put it away yet again in hopes of passing it down to her someday granddaughter!

  16. I finished a quilt that my grandmother started in the 60’s with the help of two good friends. We really enjoyed our time together and getting back to our roots. All three of us had enjoyed sewing when we were younger but put it away as we became “professional women” with Ph.D.’s!! I would like to share some photos of the quilt if I can get the cat off long enough to turn it over! Yes, we are using the heirloom!!

  17. My unexpected heirloom is a jacket-and-hat set which I knitted for my friend’s little son while she was pregnant with him. I really expected it to be worn for three months and then gotten rid of, but I was SO touched when she told me that once he becomes too big for it, it is being put away for his future siblings. I even had the privilege of seeing him in his gifted garments every now and then. I have made quite a few gifts for other friends and their children, which I am sure will receive life-long use, but no-one else has told me that they actually intend to keep the item for generations to come – which would make this gift my first official heirloom!! I am so proooouuuud . . .

    kdurmon, I love your story of your niece and her lace afghan – such a sweet gift from a child’s heart, and such a purposeful statement made by her at the time! Kudos to the grown-ups who took her seriously and saw to it that the gift reached its intended destination(s).

    I totally agree with jsparkes that gifted and passed-down items should be made use of. I feel the greatest joy when my gifts are used – that is when I really feel that my work is appreciated. If an item is too fragile to use, remember that display also counts as use, and will allow the heirloom to be enjoyed by all the members of the family as they visit your home.

  18. Thank you all for your comments. I didn’t understand my mother’s wish for me to USE those embroidered pillowcases she made for our wedding. They have 1 inch of crocheted lace, and they are still in the box she gave us. It’s been 10 years, and I haven’t used them yet! I know exactly where they are, and I think of them often and all the hours her old hands spent doing the handwork. She much prefers quilting, but sat and did those pillowcases hour after hour. At doctor’s appointments, and parish council meetings, and while traveling.
    I’ll get them out today and use them to dream of our life together!

  19. The first quilt I made was a tiny log-cabin pattern with hearts in several of the fabrics. I made it for my first grandchild. Later her grandfather and I divorced with my losing my stepdaughter and grandchildren. Years later I saw the granddaughter and wow, she had that quilt. She had traveled to visit with her aunt (who I remain close to) and she had brought the quilt with her. She not only had no idea where the quilt came from, she had no idea it was made especially for her. I like to think she still treasures it.

  20. I took a class from Sue Moore in Vancouver, WA about cutting up the embroidered parts of old linens and making them into an hierloom quilt. She helped custome-design our individual quilts with the linens we brought to class. We spaced them with calico blocks, or orphan quilt blocks. She pinned each item to a large plastic sheet she hung on a design wall that had a basic layout traced on it with a sharpie. I haven’t finished mine yet, but am excited to have a design ready to go.

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