Printed with permission.
By Linda Stalford


The soft whirr of the motor and the smell of warm metal and machine oil tickle my senses as I take the puzzle pieces of chopped-up material and combine them into a useful, and hopefully beloved object. I feel a kinship with all those women who through the millennia have kept their loved ones warm and comfy in the clothing they crafted. I love the compliments of strangers about how adorable the girls’ matching dresses are, pretending to be humble, but truth be told, busting at the seams with pride. I have little training but manage to do fairly well despite that. I share this with my Grandma Leah, the very one whose machine I use.
My sister has no inclination to sew. Her idea of button repair is to pay the dry cleaner an extra $5.00. Mama only sews because she refuses to pay anyone for something she can do herself, thank you very much! That leaves me to carry on the love of sewing. It’s a tenuous link at best with Grandma Leah, but the only one I have. She died when I was in high school, of breast cancer….perhaps there IS more substance to that link.
She was a strict grandmother, never one of those who spoil. I remember her sitting me in a chair at 4 years old, I had asked for my shoes to be tied so I could go out and play. I was told I was plenty big enough to tie my own, and when (and only when) I did, I could go play. I cried, and cried, but that day I learned I could indeed tie those shoes. We always had to scrub out clothes on her old washboard, because nothing “dirty” could go in her machine. She saved everything - bread bags were washed and reused ‘til they were in shreds, string was kept neatly wound-up in a ball, and foil was always washed, dried and folded like laundry for the next use. She even saved juices from cooking - canned fruit juices to make Jello®, and leftover potato broth for gravy. Yes….IT happened. One day we had gravy made with pear juice. True to form, we ate it regardless, for wasting something was the ultimate sin.
There are fond memories also - the smell of fresh baked bread in her kitchen, the blow-on-the-neck kisses before bed and after the telling of her “Land of Nod” bedtime rhyme, her sewing room filled with sun. I loved that sewing room, but we weren’t to touch a thing. It overlooked the back yard, in most of my memories either filled with snow, or edged with lily of the valley. I remember watching her sew us each a Raggedy Ann doll and the thrill of getting to pick which eyes would be “mine” from her seemingly endless button supply. She once flew to Hawaii with Grandpa for a conference and returned with material covered in Hawaiian floral motifs. She made each of us outfits for Christmas - John got a red “Aloha” shirt, and Denise and I got “Muu-muus”, hers pink, and mine in my favorite color, purple. I loved that dress, and wore it any chance I got. Even the kids at school teasing me about my “Moo-Moo” couldn’t lessen my enthusiasm for wearing it.
Then she became “sick”. We weren’t told much, and I just don’t remember much contact with her in my teenage years. Perhaps we were deliberately kept away. In many ways, news of her death was no different from that of a stranger’s.
But now, as I sew on her machine - surely purchased when I was a preschooler - I realize that this same machine probably made that doll and the so-special dress. I see her notes jotted in the machine’s manual, and feel a deep sense of loss - that I never got to know her as an adult, never got to have her help me learn. Mama, thank you for giving me Grandma Leah’s machine, for each time I use it, I feel a wondrous connection with a woman I do truly have a lot in common with.

Linda Stalford
December 6, 2000

December 25, 2002
I have just seen the looks of delight and wonder on my precious girls’ faces (the younger, Leah, bearing Grandma’s name) as they wrap themselves in the quilts sewn on Grandma’s machine. If this cancer does finally get the best of me, they will always have those quilts. They will know how much I love them and hopefully one of them will love sewing enough to carry on, using Grandma’s machine to continue the legacy of Love.