Memory Remnants

It’s been months since I’ve written about the Secret Life of an Object (credit due to Dawn Raffel’s book). The other day I needed to make room in a closet and felt I should confront 3 vacuum-seal bags of old fabric scraps.

My paternal grandmother was a marvelous seamstress and tailor. I wrote in the posts, The Love Factor of Dolls and RIP Dreamland, that she was Head Fitter of the 28 Shop at Marshall Field’s flagship store in Chicago. When I was eleven, she moved to Kalamazoo, just down the block from us, and spent her early retirement years sewing clothes for us–especially my mother and me. In junior high, I learned to sew in  Home Ec class, and I began to sew my own clothes as well.

The motivating factor for me to sew was that my father wouldn’t buy clothes for me, but would buy fabric for me any time I wanted it. So if I wanted a new skirt, top, jumper, dress, or scooter-skirt (mini culottes), I needed to make it myself.

I think of the remnants of all this sewing Grandma and I did as Grandma’s fabric scraps.

I decided to unpack one vacuum bag and air them out. You see, some dummy (that would be me) put mothballs in the bag.

Anybody have an idea how to get out the smell of mothballs without having to wash the scraps?

What I found was that a great many of the scraps in this bag were either leftover from items sewn by me or items evoking memories.

In the above pile, you can see a navy gingham and a red gingham. I remember working with these fabrics; at least one item was a smocked top. Either the top or another item used both ginghams together. I wish I could remember it better. The orange floral in the middle was a granny dress with a red border at the bottom. The kelly green with tiny white flowers in the bottom left Grandma used for clothes for my mother and me.

This bright fabric on top with the sunbursts I made into a scooter skirt. It was actually wide-leg shorts with a panel on the front and one on the back that buttoned on.

The hat lady fabric was my absolute favorite. I bought it on sale and made a little flip skirt and bell sleeve top. I wore it all the time. The fabric was jersey, so very comfy and flattering.

Aren’t these fabrics a blast from the past though? Retro, vintage, and ancient haha.

In this pile are fabrics that I remember as well, although most of them were ones Grandma purchased for someone other than me–herself or my mother or my mother’s windows.

Maybe the biggest discovery in this bag, though, was a remnant of the fabric from the curtains of my bedroom when I was very young.

The walls of my room were painted a pale gray. isn’t this fabric great? Maybe these kittens imprinted themselves on me. They could be why I love cats to this day.

Do you have any old fabric scraps?

Since I no longer sew, what should I do with these scraps to give them new life?


Speaking of cats, the shelter I volunteer at hosted a 10 year anniversary gala. The gardener and I went with our daughter and her boyfriend.

I had to dress up for this shindig! Guess what? Jumpsuits are in style! So I bought a black jumpsuit, wore it with ankle boots  (for my crummy feet), and was good to go. But some people looked great, including the rest of my family.


Filed under #AmWriting, #writerlife, #writerslife, Cats and Other Animals, Creative Nonfiction, Essay, Family history, Flash Nonfiction, Memoir, Nonfiction, Vintage American culture, Writing, Writing prompt

71 responses to “Memory Remnants

  1. I know I don’t need to say this but I love the kitties! How sweet. The memories that rediscovering something like this evokes. A similar experience recently happened with me concerning the unearthing fabric and it jump started a writing frenzy. Do you still sew? Maybe make blankets for shelter kitties? Fabric is so inspiring. I’ll be anxious to hear what you decide to do with glorious heap!

    • You have asked an important question. No, I do not still sew. I don’t really like it any longer, and my sewing machine is broken. I am not motivated to fix it, although I might. Fabric is SO inspiring. I find it exciting that it jumpstarted a writing frenzy for you. A FRENZY! I love that! OK, I think I am putting together all these ideas and going to do something. Maybe I will have my own frenzy over here!
      Yay to the kitties, right?!!! So cute.

  2. Maybe donate fabric to a church whose members make quilts for world relief.

    • That’s a great idea, Carole. I am trying to get the pieces cleaned up using the dry cleaning method that I read in the link Michelle provided below. Weirdly there is a black powder that comes off the fabric. Is it the fabric or the mothballs? I wouldn’t want to send something not safe, so I have to make sure.

  3. anjum wasim dar

    Dear Luanne Interesting story / essay.Loved it. Recently we opened two large suitcases which my son had left behind in DK , with a friend in 2013. They arrived in Pakistan in 2019 and were opened by my son himself…most of the stuff was neat clean smelling as DK has lovely cool weather..the stuff that my son had left with us (packed in two handbags and one suitcase) here in Islamabad had the smell of dampness and dust. The solution for that was to keep all clothes hats socks and warm suits in the room spread out for light warmth and air..In two days most of the smell was gone, and after a week of part sunlight and air, they were again put in fresh light plastic bags..some of them will be hand washed when the sticky weather is over -your cloth stuff looks lovely and being lighter fabric will be fine if put in the sunlight for a few hours…best of luck

    • What a wonderful story, Anjum. I am worried about sunlight because it’s so bright here. Fabric not only fades, but gets weakened. And these are 50 years old haha! But you are right about the air. Also, Michelle posted a link about mothballs and it gave the idea to use a dryer to speed up the process of the mothballs dissipating, so I am doing that and then keeping it all spread out in a room for awhile.

  4. Yes, quilts! Love the hat-ladies fabric.

    • I am so glad you like that fabric, too. I am so in love with it, to this day. I like the colors together, as well as the pattern and the comfy jersey.

  5. Lovely object/memories. Perhaps the cat fabric did spark something.
    My maternal grandmother sewed very well and made me and my sister some clothes when we were very little. She really didn’t teach my mom though, and I can’t sew at all. Maybe someone who quilts would like the scraps.

  6. I had boxes of scraps. Some were curtain/reupholstery fabrics that I could use for pillows but never did and some were for clothing. I got rid of all but a few of my very favorites. At the time my next door neighbor was a big quilter and in a quilt group so I gave them to her and hoped for the bests. Hope they made people happy.

    • So what did you do with the ones that were your favorites? I’d love to know. You reminded me I do have a few scraps of upholstery samples lying around here somewhere. haha I hope they make people happy, too.

      • I downsized them a couple of times, each time cutting harder. I’ve faced the reality that I doubt I’d ever be sewing much again. At this point I only have remainders of fabrics that are currently in the house but I kept on beautiful piece that I bought in Hawaii in 1974. I had found a wonderful fabric store there an bought several pieces. I made clothes with all but one piece. It’s too beautiful to give away. I have a friend who is a professional seamstress. She has made tablecloths and pillows from my scraps to sell.

  7. Pass the scraps on, but take some photographs and tell the stories, maybe make a little book for yourself? You could even keep some scraps in that – a proper scrapbook! – that way you get to keep the memories in a contained space.

  8. I’d put them away, and open them again next year, or the year after.

  9. I love the archaeology of old sewing scraps (and buttons). Those remnants bring back memories of the 50s, 60s, and even early 70s. You and your grandmother were sewing magicians!

    Nice to know that jumpsuits are back in style. I had one made of polished cotton that had a profusion of big jungle leaves and vines. That was 1970 or 71. I did not sew it!

    • Haha, I was no sewing magician. Just followed patterns and was motivated to have a new outfit. But, as you know, my grandmother was a phenomenal seamstress and tailor.
      Yes, that is when jumpsuits were really big. I would love to see yours if you run across a pic of it. I had a jumpsuit that was bright yellow. I looked like an actual banana in it. I was very tanned, and my tan is very golden as I can’t get darker than that, so I was pretty much all yellow except my hair.

  10. Perfect for a scrap quilt. That’s my next project. I made one about 40 years ago – still have it – and the bits always remind me of some piece of clothing I had back then. Fun.

  11. I liked the gingham fabric. I had shirts made with navy and red gingham. I liked the idea of donating these scraps to a church.

    • I like gingham, too! All the ideas here are good, and I am hoping that I can put them all together and sort of do a version of all of them, including yours vote of scraps to a church. Speaking of gingham you have reminded me that my mother, grandmother, and I won best MOTHER-DAUGHTER outfits at Grandma’s church when I was about 5 or 6. We all wore light blue gingham dresses!

  12. One of the advantages of being American I think is the tendency to keep everything – apparently you all have huge attics and basements and or storage lockers stuffed to the gunnels 😀 Such a fabric haul would be a walk down memory lane for sure and those bits you showed looked fabulous. I do recall sewing lots of gingham when I had little toddlers because the lines made it easy to make straight seams and I could whip up matching creations in no time. There are a million things you could do with those scraps – after you’ve aired them out of course 🙂 a simple hand sewn memory quilt for yourself (Kerry at KerryCan is currently creating a beauty consisting of squares joined with crochet for a stunning look.) Or blankets for kitties or a wall hanging – again it can be hand stitched in all kinds of crazy ways or just passed on to one of those community groups who will do something useful with them 🙂

    • LOL, haha, it’s true. I don’t have a basement, but lots of closets and a rented storage space! And a husband who is a hoarder, meaning he can’t stand it when I get rid of anything. I have to sneak stuff into the trash or give it away when he’s not looking. Drives me nuts. obviously I love to save things out of sentimental reasons, but he does it for no good reason that I can see. By the way, about the airing, Michelle posted a link about getting rid of the smell. I tried the dryer method, and so far, so great!!! I took out one little batch and it smells nice! Oh, I love that idea of using crochet for joining!!! I can’t crochet of course and don’t sew any longer. My machine is broken. My daughter’s is broken. And I am unmotivated to go back to sewing. I don’t think I ever really enjoyed–just wanted the clothes as a teen. Your idea about giving them away to someone who can do something useful with them will probably get acted upon, BUT with ideas of others here implemented as well. When I have the idea pulled together in a few weeks I hope to post about it.

  13. You could make a quilt or blankets for your cats. I’ve saved some old mattress liners to use as batting and when I’m retired, I’m going to take my scraps and sew some “throwaway” blankets for the cats. Right now we’re using beach towels and the like to cover some of the furniture that they like to lay on. How are your kitties???? Ours are finally back to normal. Now Wendy has a dental appt tomorrow ($$$). Her bladder stone is completely gone (hallelujah!) but they recommend keeping her on the prescription diet … and of that she really only likes the dry food. Sigh. The only one who is not finicky is Junior. He’ll eat anything 😉

    • So glad to hear that they are back to normal, especially the wicked bladder stone. I hope she is already out of “surgery” and her teeth are clean and she’s recovering nicely. Let me know! The food thing is a disaster. Tiger is especially causing all kinds of issues. I had to put a call into the vet again this morning about her. She went down to 6.5 lbs now because nothing appeals to her. And I am wasting too much food because of that. Grrr. We use old towels, too–beach, bath, and hand. I like that I can throw them in the wash without worry so everything stays clean. I have a couple of quilted bed/pads that someone made me, but they don’t wash as well as the towels. I have two non-working sewing machines BTW. I need to get rid of one and either fix the other or get rid of it. One has been mine since I bought it for myself at 19. The other was my daughter’s, a real cheapie. They are underneath an old table looking sloppy. I want to shed this hoarder image ;).

      • I read somewhere that you don’t like to see. Well, then don’t sew. Give away the fabric and maybe one your machines. Someone suggested maybe a church group that does quilting. I love that idea. I like sewing once I get started but I don’t like sewing clothes any more. No patience with the details. The idea of donating appeals to me. I’ve talked about having a garage sale for all my sewing stuff, but I doubt that I’d get enough to justify the work and time. Several years ago I donated some spinning equipment to a group that was raising money for a young woman who had become seriously ill. The young woman had taught me the continental technique for knitting so I was thrilled to have something of value to donate. About my cat Wendy: she came through her dental with all her teeth intact. Yay! Her weight is a problem, though. I’d love to give some of her pounds to Tiger ❤️❤️❤️

        • Yay Wendy! So glad she kept her teeth. Can tiger at least have a few ounces? How wonderful that you were able to donate for her.
          Yesterday I had to take Tiger in again For more tests on her kidneys. And some sub Q fluids. I don’t have the results yet. She’s hungry and wants to eat but then she eats a bite or two and she walks away from the food no matter what I give her.

          • Oh, dear. How old is Tiger? It sounds like she might still get nauseated. While we had our three on Cerenia, I gave them fancy cat food that was mostly broth (Delectables??). I think it helped them make the transition. Max is being finicky off and now. I think it might be the heat. They have access to our screened back porch. Greg has been making them stay inside during the midday when it’s hottest. Still, Max has early KD and the heat probably dehydrates her. Not a good combo 🙁

            • Good info in here, so thank you! I’ve never tried Delectables. I will look it up. Tiger is getting sub Q fluids again today so maybe that will help her with the dehydration because it’s still fairly hot here although getting cooler. Thank goodness. I think she probably is nauseous but I worry about loading her up with too much medicine. I hope the lab results come back soon and she can get off the Clavamox.

  14. What a nice trip down memory lane. Fabrics are great for that. Some quilter would be able to make use of them.

    • Yes, if they can use old fabric. I mean, they seem almost brand new, but they are 50 years old hahaha. From all the comments I have an idea that, if it works, might satisfy ALL the responses here.

  15. I was curious about the mothball question and found this link: Hope it’s helpful.

    • Thank you so much, Michelle. VERY helpful. I divided the scraps into four very small loads and already dried the first batch. Smells sweet and fresh now!

  16. I think a quilting group would enjoy the scraps, but I’d have a hard time letting go.

  17. Showed these to Pretty – she loved!!

  18. Amazing what great memories a few scraps of fabric can bring – I especially love that you still have the curtain fabric – you were definitely kitten-washed into loving cats 🙂

  19. I have a bushel and a peck of fabric from my husband’s Sunday School teacher. (she was more than that, but that’s ample) They’re all vintage. With them, I am making a postage stamp quilt that grows about a block a winter since I started working full-time!

  20. I have a lot of scraps and am phasing out of sewing. But to me, fabric is like art and I love looking at it more than sewing it. I’ve thought of framing some of my favorite pieces and hanging them on a wall maybe in a collage’ form. A lot of my fabric will be donated soon. Looking forward to hearing what you do with it.

  21. I still have scraps of fabric in a sewing box from my grandmother. She and I used to play with “Sewing Doll,” making garments for the doll out of whatever we found in this box–cloth and lace and binding tape. The scraps were mostly from dresses my grandmother had made for my mother when she was in high school, so the fabric pieces were at least ten years old when I was a girl. Now they’re about 70 years old.
    You might locate a local quilting club. I’ll bet they could do something with your remnants.

  22. Hi Luanne! I loved your Tales posts from your cats. So imaginative, and now I understand more about your household residents. 🙂

    Thanks for your kind words about my “Strike Breaker” story and about my blog. Your friendship has been such a gift to me! Hope all is well with family. 🙂

  23. I love this, my button box creates a similar experience, thank you 🙂

  24. So much to love here—the fabric and particularly scooter skirts; I haven’t thought of that term in years. I did have TONS of scrap fabric (mostly from reupholstering) and used it for the comfort crosses I made (hand-held crosses stuffed with shredded paper that you could hold in your palm for comfort), but I don’t do that any more. I do know that smaller fabric stores sometimes have “free vintage” baskets where you can make/take donations, but that would be hit or miss as to whether you had one around you. Hope you keep enjoying your memories.

  25. Pingback: Scrapping Scraps | Luanne Castle's Writer Site

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