When I was a teenager, my nana – stern, severe maternal grandmother – took me to her local parsonage where (as I remember it) a friend of hers had recently died. Don’t ask me why, I can’t recall, but I was allowed to take one thing away with me – and I chose the book you can see on the left.
I remember that parsonage for its wide, grand stairs and huge rooms. Impressive to me, certainly – it must have been imposing to Nana Beecroft who spent most of her life sharing a two-up, two-down terraced house with her husband’s parents and her own children. Nana had a hard life with little money and was a strict Methodist. At 40, I can understand why she seemed so severe but at age 6 or 8 I was bemused by the hard, brittle love she shared. My lovely, soft, cuddly mother was the daughter of this woman? I knew Nana loved me – why else these trips out together? – but hers was an odd sort of love for a child to understand. She was a product of her time and her experiences.
Now, my lovely mum is clearing out her loft. Which led to her driving lots of my belongings down to me, including this book. 25 years after rescuing it from the parsonage, I turn its pages again. What a treasure trove. Recipes, knitting patterns, party games, more recipes, pages torn from magazines, calendars dating from 1883. Other scribbled dates include 1915 and 1928. Wow.
Here’s a knitting pattern from 1949:
And here’s a knitting pattern for gloves in two colours:
As an editor and writer, I get paid to play with words. I love words so much that I have two blogs and am considering setting up a third. Yet, here is an anonymous woman who wrote steadily over many years, adding quietly to a collection of housekeeping notes. No audience required. It’s a real glimpse into the world knitting and sewing once inhabited. (The only sewing note I can find is measurements for pillow cases.) It’s a very ordinary world, but clearly a well-loved one. No one keeps a book of notes like this unless they want to. I don’t quite know what this tells me about the world of crafting then and now. Actually, there is one thing. So little has changed. I could probably fudge a knitted pair of gloves from those instructions. I could attempt one of the many recipes. (Peapod wine, anyone?) In the space of 100 years knitting, sewing, baking… They’re all still doing the jobs they’re meant to.
Nana didn’t sew. Or knit. But she did crochet up a storm. I’ve never attempted crocheting, partly I fear because it reminds me of … well, my nana. But I vividly remember the glint of her crochet needle and the jerk and bob of the ball of cotton as she worked away. She used to make crocheted swans. When I was a child, we had some in our home. Then last New Year’s Eve, 21 years after she died, I went to a museum in Stockholm and saw…
I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Someone in Stockholm had followed exactly the same pattern as my Nana in her little house in Derbyshire, and now those swans were a museum exhibit. From Derbyshire to Sweden. Makes you think, doesn’t it? Not so very different to all the versions of sewing and knitting patterns that are shared – laughed over, enjoyed or bemoaned – via Ravelry and Burda and blogs and the Internet. A world of people crafting.
Perhaps my Nana is part of that world. Maybe the woman who wrote out all those recipes is also part of it. Perhaps? Maybe? Who am I kidding. Of course they are. Whoever laughs at the world of sewing and knitting and says it’s anti-feminist or downtrodden had better think again. It’s the strongest link between the past and the future I can think of. It makes me smile when I think of Nana Beecroft, and that can only be a very good thing indeed. It reminds me of who I am.