My Grandmother’s Thimble and Sewing Doll

My grandmother's thimble

My grandmother’s thimble

In an earlier post, I mentioned my maternal grandmother’s thimble. Her initials – WS, for Winifred Strachan, her maiden name – are on the thimble. Her friends all called her Winnie, and I called her Nanny Winnie.

Nanny Winnie kept house for her father and brothers after her mother died; my grandmother was still in her teens at the time. She later told me about running her brother’s heavy corduroy trousers through the wringer washer, so I imagine she also did quite a bit of mending in those days, and had need of  the thimble.

I don’t remember seeing Nanny Winnie with this thimble, but I am glad to have it, because it brings to mind memories of sewing with her when I was a child.

Nanny Winnie and I began sewing together when I was quite young. It was a game for me, not a hobby or homemaking skill. (My youth is evident in the too-large stitches on surviving projects from that era.) Nanny Winnie and I made clothes for a small doll known only as Sewing Doll, so we must have begun our projects before I gave real names to my dolls. In the years before I started school, my dolls were called Big Doll and Baby Doll, and similarly descriptive monikers. Sewing Doll originally belonged to my mother when she was a girl. I don’t know what my mother called her.

Sewing Doll's box

Sewing Doll’s box

When I was a child, Sewing Doll lived with Nanny Winnie. I only played with her when I visited my grandparents. She was kept in a sewing box filled with scraps of cloth and lace and ribbon from clothes my mother and grandmother had made over the years. I was allowed to drape her with the scraps of material. When I began demanding real clothes for her, my grandmother and I began our projects.

I couldn’t really play with Sewing Doll, because her legs were held on only with a rubber band, which broke regularly, causing me to cry and my grandmother to hunt down another rubber band so she could conduct hip replacement surgery. All Sewing Doll was good for was draping with fabric and modeling the fashions we concocted. On rainy afternoons, when my brother was otherwise occupied, my grandmother and I would sew.

At the time, my grandmother was about the age and height I am now, but she weighed a lot more than I do. Our sewing time was usually spent on the floor, which was easy for me, but my grandmother complained about having to get up and down. Still, she would do almost anything for her grandchildren, so she got down on the floor to sew with me.


Sewing Doll

The bodice of the dress that Sewing Doll is sporting in this picture is made from an old dress or apron of my mother’s. I don’t know where the lace for the skirt came from. It’s so old it has moth holes in it, though it didn’t when we first made the dress. Most of the stitches in this garment are mine (though Nanny Winnie probably did the buttonhole on the back that you cannot see). I used leftover pieces of yarn to braid the dashing scarf that Sewing Doll wears around her neck. This outfit probably dates from the time I was seven or eight. (Note Nanny Winnie’s thimble posed beside Sewing Doll.)

Over the years, my sewing skills improved. By the time I was in high school, I made a lot of my own clothes, and had graduated from sloppy hand-stitching to my mother’s old Singer machine. When I became proficient, Mother bought a new Singer Select-O-Matic with five different built-in stitches, and that is what I made most of my clothes on.

One Christmas when I was in high school, I took scraps from my mother’s and my sewing projects and made several outfits to give to my younger sister for her Barbie doll. Because the Barbie clothes were so small, I reverted to hand-sewing most of the seams, but my stitches were much neater than those on Sewing Doll’s garments. I wasn’t as patient as Nanny Winnie, and didn’t teach my sister to sew, but I did pass along the benefit of my grandmother’s sewing lessons.

When my grandmother moved into an assisted living facility about twenty years ago, my mother shipped the box containing Sewing Doll and her scraps of material to me. Later on, during another cleaning spree, my mother decided I should have Nanny Winnie’s thimble. Nanny Winnie died in March 2003, ten years ago this month.

Sewing Doll still lives in her box with a few remaining bits of material. She needs a new rubber band. She and her box are buried in the back of a closet in my home, and I only take her out of the closet on rare occasion.

But my grandmother’s thimble lives in my jewelry box, and I encounter it more frequently. When I see the thimble, I smile, remembering my sewing days with Nanny Winnie, and wishing she were here to sew with me now.

What items do you have at home that bring back childhood memories?

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  1. Like you, I had a special relationship with my Mamaw. I have several afghans around my house that she crocheted. Every time I snuggle with one, I can picture her in the chair with her fingers going a mile a minute creating these beautiful creations.

  2. I have a mixing bowl that looks like there are cross-stitched roses around the inside top rim. After 25 years of marriage, my grandparents built a new house on their farm to replace the tumbled-down one. The new one burned to the ground a few weeks after they moved in. The neighbors brought household items to replace the burnt ones. This bowl was one of the gifts.

  3. Pingback: The Doll I Never Played With | Story & History

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