One of the things I’ve been spending a lot of time doing, over the past few months, is sorting through the house.
My mum had lived in this house for over thirty years – since the year before I was born – and in thirty-plus years, one accumulates a Lot of Stuff. We all do. I’ve lived here all my life and although for a lot of that, my ‘stuff’ was generally in one room rather than spread throughout, I know that there are boxes in cupboards that have been sitting there for at least fifteen years and would sit there for another fifteen, were it not for the fact that I will be moving.
Because that’s what people do, generally. We accumulate stuff and think ‘better save that in case I need it’ and things get shoved into the back of drawers and cupboards, or into filing cabinets, and…forgotten about. Maybe we need to keep those things at the time but never got around to getting rid of them once they were past usefullness. Maybe we need to keep those things for sentimental reasons. Whatever. It’s human nature.
And, if you don’t move house, that’s where it tends to stay – shoved into drawers and cupboards and folders, forgotten about.
Then what sometimes happens is people have the temerity to go and die, leaving their family to sift through the mountains in search of buried treasure. Yes, mother, I’m looking at you, wherever you are.
It has been, unbelievably, nearly six months since my mother died, and I’m…okay. As I said to somebody a few weeks ago, everything is okay, but it’s also still unbearably awful at the same time, and the two feelings seem to co-exist quite naturally. I am getting used to being alone, I am getting used to not being able to chat to her or tell her about every last thing (last night I went to shut the chickens away and Gabby shot out of the door before I could shut it; I told her off and she came straight back, very meekly – and normally I would have told this to Mum straightaway, and she’d have laughed), and it’s okay. I’m looking after myself, more or less – eating healthily and keeping up with the house and all my animals, and dealing with the stuff that she always dealt with. But there isn’t a second of a minute of the day when I’m not acutely aware of the gaping hole that now exists where she always was. And that’s the awful part.
Part of the impetus for sorting through her life’s miscellany is that I will be, at some point, moving. As I said, I’ve never lived anywhere else – I wasn’t even well enough to go away to university – so it’s going to be a Big Deal for me. However, we have sold the house (without having to go through an estate agent!) to a lovely family who came in and fell in love with it, and they’re renting at the moment so they’re happy to wait for probate and for me to find my new home. It’s a really good feeling; I’ve met the children, and I really feel like I am passing this home on to them, to a family who will bring love and life and laughter into the house, the way Mum always did for us. It’s what she would have wanted.
There’s no deadline for moving – probate takes it’s own sweet time! – but it will be coming. So I’ve been sorting. A room at a time, mostly (I still need to return to the office to the bookshelves and the filing cabinet), and working with the mantra of ‘I can always get rid of stuff later, but I won’t be able to get anything back’. I’m keeping some things that I may, in a year or ten, decide I can part with, but for now, even if it’s in boxes, I want to keep these things.
Some of the stuff has driven me up the wall. How many clothes did one person need, mother?!?!? LOTS, apparently. Much of her recent wardrobe is being kept, for now, but I’m not exaggerating when I say there’s been about a dozen binbags full of clothes sent to charity shops! And credit card statements from fifteen years ago, and payslips from even further back……*rolls eyes* my mother.
But some stuff has been really fun to find. I found a letter that was sent to me from the BBC in response to a letter I wrote to them, aged 4/5, about how much I’d loved the Animals of Farthing Wood animation, and was there going to be more? Yes, the BBC told me kindly, there was. And Mum kept the letter all these years!
I’ve also found a stamp collection that originally belonged to my great-uncle, who died in World War 2. The collection was then passed to my uncle, and from my grandparents’ possession to my mum’s at some point in the last twenty years or so. Knowing my grandma, she was probably doing one of her semi-regular clear-outs and told Mum she could have it or it could go in the bin. There are stamps there dating back to the 1920s, and a lot of foreign ones. I’m not a stamp collector, but my brother and I are agreed we’re going to keep it, as family memorabilia.
But one of the best things I’ve found has been an unfinished, hand-pieced patchwork quilt. My grandma quilted extensively, and I know Mum did a little, but knowing her loathing of hand-sewing, I was surprised to find such a beautiful quilt, and surprised to see how little it needed to be finished off.
I can date it by some of the papers – we’re talking late 1980s – and one of my mother’s oldest and best friends, my ‘auntie’ Eve, can remember Mum working on it when I was a toddler. Her recollection is that Mum worked on it as a way of sort of exorcising the ghost of her mother (my grandma) – working out that she could be herself-as-mother, and didn’t have to become her mother. And then clearly she got to a point where she didn’t need to work on it any longer, but she kept it for all these years, and when I got it out and looked at it, I decided I would like to finish it. I’ve not done a huge amount of sewing crafts, but I’ve done some; I know my way around a sewing machine and I know how to neatly whipstitch, which is probably about as much as one needs to know when embarking on something like this! And there are, as you’d expect, plenty of helpful tutorials and guidance available online.
Initially it looked as though it just needed cream blocks along two sides, and a little bit of repair work around the edges where some seams had frayed. There was no more cream fabric, however, so I toddled off to my local yarn and fabric shop (Sew Knit Craft, in Cambridge), blanket in tow, to ask for some help. The owner, Irena, was extremely helpful, and I came away with an appropriate cream cotton (not quite a perfect match, but deliberately so), a gorgeous backing fabric that picks up some of the cream and bits of orangey-red in some of the front fabrics, and plenty of wadding – as well as a promise of further help if I get stuck!
However, once I began doing that bit of repair work, something quickly became clear – and, knowing how much my mother disliked hand sewing, it made perfect sense.
Some of the seams in this blanket are beautifully sewn (left-hand photo below). Some……..are not.
I can just picture her rattling along, doing loose, fast whip stitches…not noticing, or perhaps not caring, that some of the seams are so loose you could drive a bus through them. Ah, mum.
Well, the problem is, I can’t possibly live with it, because if I want it to become a useable blanket, the sewing has to hold up to some use. So I’m not just repairing, I’m actively re-sewing a good 80% of the seams in the entire blanket. It’s 6×7 nine-patch blocks. It’s…a lot.
However, I’m enjoying it. It appeals to my perfectionism, sewing neat, small stitches along these seams – following in my mother’s footsteps, so to speak. It’s soothing, both in the actual sewing and in the feeling of being close to her through it. I’m literally using a needle she used, too, because I found one stuck into a corner of the blanket! And I’m getting through it pretty well. In terms of blocks, I’m about halfway through, though each block needs a different amount of sewing, depending on how carefully she sewed to begin with.
After I’m done with the sewing, I will embark on the adventures of cutting fabric accurately, both for the edging and for the backing, and then further down the line will come quilting and binding. All new skills for me, but I am both patient and precise, so I have a good feeling 🙂
So, having finished crocheting both Under the Sea blankets, this is my big project at the moment. I do have a crochet project on the go as well, of course – I couldn’t abandon my hook entirely! A stash-bust blanket for the grandson of a friend, whose favourite colour is orange. Well, I knew I’d find a use for that ever-so-bright ball of Special DK Jaffa some time or other…