Thursday, September 3, 2009

A Simple Woman

Grandma Risley with her sister Walsie Smith O'Neil

Grandma spent many happy hours sitting at her old Singer treadle sewing machine where she worked on quilt tops, made aprons, tea towels, clothes for my dolls and dresses for her Grandchildren. Now that I am a grandmother, I know that sewing for her Grandchildren represented her love. In the early springtime she would buy material to make summer dresses. Most of these dresses were made from her favorite pattern which had a shirt top, button front, and four gore skirt. She changed the appearance by doing different things with the collars, sometimes adding lace and other trims.

I can just see her now, dressed in her crisp cotton dress, black leather shoes and her little black pillbox hat. She was a fiercely independent woman who lost her husband when she was only 56. She lived with my Aunt Joy and her family from that point on, living her life to the fullest. She gardened and sewed, cooked and cleaned. Helping always with whatever needed to be done on that busy dairy farm. I don't ever remember a time when she took the day off, she was up and going early! Grandma always had a pretty head-scarf, which she carefully folded when she got where she was going and a dainty embroidered handkerchief in her leather purse. She didn't have much jewelry; a nice watch, her gold wedding band and some small pins...but she had the ability to appear neat, well dressed and proper in a very modest way, for all occasions.

Grandma with Grandchildren~Shirley, Patsy, Sheldon, Tim and Betty

Grandma believed it was a sin to waste any piece of fabric. She made quilts from small scraps of material, every old sheet, blanket or bedspread that became thread-bare was saved for the interlining of the quilts and comforters. She spent many winter afternoons ripping apart threadbare clothing the family no longer could wear, carefully cutting them so as to have as many quilt pieces as possible. Heavier fabrics such as wools and corduroy could be made into comforter tops. The back linings for many of the cotton quilts were made from white cotton sugar and flour sacks which had been saved, bleached and stitched together.

Grandma, my brother Sheldon and me~6 days old

My Dad spoke often of his childhood and could remember in detail his life on the farm at Peel, Arkansas. His parents kept nice flocks of chickens, and the chicken feed came in colorful fabric sacks. These sacks were made of woven cotton, which his Mom used to make summer clothes for them. It was not unusual for neighbor women to help out a friend by buying the same print sack, and swapping it out, so one of them would have enough fabric to make a dress. One sack was not quite enough for a dress so they would wait until they had two or three of the same print collected. Grandma let none of these ‘feed sacks ‘ go to waste. If some of the sacks were of a print that she considered not attractive enough for dresses, she made “ever-day” aprons, pillows cases, etc. She also put some of these into the quilt box . Grandma and her friends would be truly amazed to know that now those ‘feed sack’ quilts are very collectible, costing hundreds of dollars in antique shops! These quilts are our family ‘memory bridges’ to the past.

That's me on the left, curly perms were popular in the 50's!

I must have been eight or nine years old when I first attempted to make doll clothes with her help. I’m sure I tried her patience many times, needing help with ‘winding the bobbin’ and placing it correctly in the shuttle. I enjoyed making many things for our daughters through the years on my New Home sewing machine that I received for my 13th birthday. I like to think I inherited this love of sewing from Grandma. She was a simple woman. As I reflect on the legacy she left our family, I know I was a lucky child to have had a grandmother who was involved in my life and loved me unconditionally.


  1. I always love your posts!My grandmother was a simple woman too.I 'll never forget her!
    I liked photos.Bye.

  2. She sounds like my great grandma.
    Recently a cousin of my moms gave her an unfinished quilt great grandma had started. It was made from my great grandpas old shirts.

    I am going to finish it and display it proudly.

  3. What a lovely memory and tribute to your grandmother. She and those her age werea remarkable lot of women.

  4. Beautiful pictures bring back sweet memories and wonderful stories!


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