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My Needlework Legacy

I think that it is time to get the history down here to preserve it for future generations, just like I want to preserve my beloved crochet for future generations too!

I know for sure I am a third generation needleworker. My grandmother, Myrtle Olive (Shipe) Eshelman (1890-1973),bless her wonderful soul, did tatting and was a superb seamstress. My mother, Dorothy Eleanor (Eshelman) Blakley (1926-2009) took after her and was a fabulous seamstress also.

From the time I was a young child of two I would visit my granmother by myself. She took such good care of me and as I got older was so much fun to be around. To this day I can remember what a wonderful cook she was: chicken and noodles, scalloped potatoes and ham, green beans fresh out of the garden and delicious pies of all kinds. Her apple, cherry and peach pies were to die for! I like to cook and actually made pie crusts from scratch for many years until I discovered "Pillsbury" all-ready pie crusts. Since that day, I haven't looked back; they are really quite good. I'll make a graham cracker crust from scratch now and then. I can remember waking up and looking forward to a piece of grandma's pie for breakfast!

My visits were to the family homestead, a farm where my mother and her 6 siblings grew up.
Mother: bottom right with 5 of her 6 siblings

My grandma had been a widow from the time I was two, so I don't remember Grandpa Harold. The farm held so many fascinations for me: flower gardens, barns, wide stone posts at the front gate, the huge furnace in the basemntthat had to have caolshoveled into and the bedside potty which we used at night instead of going to the outhouse in the dark! There were many Amish people living in the area and they were frequently passing by in their buggies. We spent many a hour on the front porch swing where grandmas told me endless stories of "gyspies" who would arrive in the neighborhood on their annual treks across country, sometimes knocking on he door to ask for handouts. Some were scary stories and of course, I would always want her to re-tell them. This was a time before television and we would spend endless hours just whiling away the time on lazy summer days. Down the road at the bend was a general store and walking there to buy a loaf of bread for Grandma and some penny candy was a great activity to pass some time.

I can remember family reunions with the farmhouse packed full of at least fifty people. I always had many, many cousins who I enjoyed, many close to my age.

Me and my cousins at the farm

My Aunts and Uncles were so friendly and close to us even though we were the only ones who lived in the "city." I can remember one particular get-together when we cousins were running around like crazy and I had a "head-on" crash with cousin Larry. Oh, did I bleed and cry! I still have the scar in my eyebrow to remind me! My mom, the youngest sibling may have been a bit rebellious (maybe that's where I get it; she married my dad at age 21 and moved away from this small farming community.

Mom never lost her "closeness" to her mother or siblings, though. I remember going for every holiday to visit grandma in one way or another. In the later years of her life, I remember mom always buying her a new dress for every occasion, it seemed like.

Grandma in a new dress

Her birthday was on Valentine's Day

A birthday party for Grandma that my mom hosted

By the time I was ten or so, Grandma had sold the farmhouse to her son, Uncle Norris and moved abou five miles to the town of Wolcottville, IN. I was taking the Greyhound bus by myself to visit her by then. My mom or dad would take me downtown (Ft. Wayne, IN) and put me on the bus; Grandma lived all of an hour away! She never drove but she would meet me "uptown" and we would walk the three blocks to her tiny house where I would stay for a week.

Grandma lived across the alley from her daughter, Aunt Nancy,and I was a great playmate with my cousin Linda.
Gwen and Linda

We had the best times and I had big crushes on her two brothers, Jim and Bob. Too bad, I always thought, that they are my cousins! Even though they were several years older, they tolerated Linda and I pretty well and were even nice to us.

Jim and Bob with Uncle Jim
Aunt Nancy made some pretty delicious pies too! She is 92 now and living in an assisted living home and thriving there. To this day, I am close to cousin Jim and we have annual family reunions in September where I see all my cousins. My brother, Roger, s hosting them now and the Eshelman Family RReunions have been going on for fifty years!

I've blogged here about my "Ginny" Doll by Vogue Dolls ("Ginny, Barbie, American Girl: Influences Through the Generations") and receiving her one year when I was about eight has to be one of the best Christmases ever! I remember clearly that on Christmas morning I received my Ginny from "Santa" at my house. Later that day, our family went to Grandma's house and there the greatest surprise awaited me...Grandma had made me oodles and oodles of outfits for my doll out of fabric that my mother had used to make clothes for me!

Gwen wearing a dress from the same brown fabric that Ginny's dress is made from.

I loved each and every outfit made in the cleverest ways with scraps of matching fabrics and the finest details: embroidered french knots, pom poms little flowers and bows! I'll always remember the fabric "pink pongee" that my mom referred to about one of my dresses. Ginny has an outfit made out of it too!

Ginny's dress made from the "pink pongee"

I treasure that doll with all my heart and still have her and the trunk full of her clothes on display in daughter Bethany's room.

As I got to high school, I still went to visit Grandma, but my interests were changing! Linda and I were still best buddies and we liked to go to the dance parties held at a nearby lake. Grandmas wasn't so in favor of that, especially of us being out late at night. We had some conflicts, but all turned out well. I dearly loved my Grandma and still have such warm memories of all she meant to me.

My husband, Alan and I were just home from living in Honduras in the Peace Corps the summer Grandmas died. Mom had gone to take her to the doctor; I don't remember what was wrong. The story goes...the doctor told Grandma she would not be able to live alone anymore. I don't know what the look on her face said, but she remained silent. They went to the car and she was inside when her head tilted to its side and she was dead of a massive stroke. The thought of not living n her own in her precios little house right by Aunt Nancy killed her!

My mother, Dorothy (Dot as my dad called her) was quite the entrepreneurial lady. As I said she was a talented seamstress and for a long ago as I can remember, she had a sewing business in our home and made clothes and did alerations for many, many customers. In a sense she was a stay-at-home mom because she was always there and could be available for us (me and my two younger brothers) when we neded her. She sewed in the dining room and just closed the French doors when someone needed to change. I always enjoyed the arrival of the customers and liked to be nearby to hear the tales they would tell my mom. She sewed for many of her customers through many, many years and through all of life's occurences for them: deaths, divorces, bankrupcy, etc! I now how to sew with a machine and have had one for years. I mostly use it just for "necessity" when a crochet project needs something that the machine can provide.I can remember mom trying to each me to sew when I was about ten and it was not a good memory! She didn't have the patience of a teacher and when I didn't get it right after a few tries, she preferred to just do it herself!

That's okay; in high school I found enjoyment in the handwork of stamped embroidery and crewel. It was the sixties and I still remember the cute little kits with pictures of porches and flowers and hanging plants. Pleated skirts were the fashion and th girls who could afford to buy their clothes at retail department stores were wearing skirts of the most gorgous plaids. I remember the particular pattern in lovly shades of lavendar. I was so in love with it, but there was no way I could spend that kind of money. Lo and behold, my mom found the exact same fabric in the fabric store and made me a look-alike pleated skirt for me. I was so excited and probably had just a hint of doubt and trepidation tht someone would know it was "homemade" and not from Wolf nnd Dessauer Dept. Store!

Mother made my prom dresses and my wedding gown,

The bride: Gwen
plus a couple of the bridesmaids gowns. She made many a bridesmade dress for her granddaughters too!

My mom was quite feisty and outspoken and I believe, an early feminist in her own way. She knew the value of her skills and expected to be paid for her knowlege and talents. One time she shortened a pair of pants for a man. He knew she really love blue gills freshly caught from the northern Indiana lakes. When he came to pick up the pants,he offered her a 'mess" of bluegil in lieu of payment. Mom told him in no uncertain terms that she would enjoy the bill gills, but they would not suffice for payment of his obligation!

Her passionate hobby was always garage saling for antiques. In her forties, she began selling antiques in local festivals and exhibitions on a limited basis and when I was in college she opened an antique shop on the property of our home, "The Red Shed."

A newspaper article featuring mom and her spongeware collection.

When my mom and dad built a new, smaller house next door,she had a special room added to continue the shop. She retired as an antique dealer at age 65. At some point she stopped sewing new clothes from scratch but continued to do alterations for a few customers until she was eighty and having eyesight problems due to macular degeneration.

I had heard "porch swing tales" about Aunt Ruth (Grandma's sister-in-law) who always lived in Hollywood, FL, but never had had the pleasure of meeting her. Aunt Ruth visiting us in Coral Springs

When we moved relatively nearby to Coral Springs FL, I made contact with her and got to know her quite well in her later years. We had two dauhters by then and would drive to Hollywood to visit her on a Sunday afternoon. She would always want to cook for us and had the same culinary talents as Myrtle. A widow of many years, she lived in the tiniest house an served her delicous food on the tiniest plates on the tiniest table! I can still recall the waftng perfume from the HUGE gardenia bush outside her screened porch.

It seemed like she wanted to give me something every time we visited. It wasn't always something valuable; it could be as simple and lovely as a bouquet of fresh gardenias off her bush! One time, though, I hit the proverbial jackpot when she gave me a small crocheted purse

Aunt Ruth's Miser Purse-dates from 1900

which she told me that she carried to Sunday school as a young girl with her pennies in it. That cherishd purse dwelled unnoticed for years in an old trunk where I to this day keep my crochet lace collection. It's a treaured piece and launched my career as a first time author!

Magical Miser Purses: Crochet Patterns with Victorian Inspiration co-authored with BJ Licko-Keel. Published by DMC Corp 2000.
I wouldnt have become an author if it weren't for the Crochet Guild of America. The confidence I gained and the networking with both crocheters and industry people helped me find my way to getting the story of this treasued family heirloom published. My c-author, BJ Licko-Keel had similar interests to me in misers purses, so it was perfect fit and we had a wonderful time working together on the book for over two years. It was a huge learning experience too!

People often mistake me for an expert needleworker and crocheter. They think because I am the Founder of the Crochet Guild of America (CGOA)that I must also know everything there is about crochet! That couldn't be farther from the truth! I started the guild, not because I knew everything about crochet But because I wanted to badly to learn MORE! While we lived in FL (1977-85), I was a member of the Embroiderers' Guild of America (EGA)and I can remember taking my crochet to the meetins and keeping it hidden below the table! I participated, don't get me wrong; and I learned a lot! It is here that I began to wonder why we, the crocheters, didn't have an organization as exciting as EGA or for that matter, just an organization! I didn't know many other crocheters and sure didn't have a place to go to meet up with them or workshops and conferences to learn from them. So, I honed my skills in embroidery and learned so much from both local and national teachers.I was thrilled when in 2002 we were large enough an organization to be able to hire a management company and in 2007 we celebrated the Fifteenth Anniversary of CGOA with a special logo designed by a meember who won the logo contest!

Now, some 30-plus years later, I am still learning about crochet and the "process" is just as important to me as the finished "projects." I know I still have so much more to learn and I enjoy that. With the advent of online social media groups in the last few years, I have found that the amount of information and the things to learn is almost overwhelming, but I am trying to keep up with it. I am "Crochetkween" on Ravelry ( a wonderful crochet and knit community. I have a designers page there: Cro-Kween Designs, where crocheters come to share and learn from each other. It also helps if you have a sense of humor while visiting my group.

When my mother died in 2009, my sister-in-lae, Lynn (bless her heart) put together a memory album for my dad. Every family contributed a page and this is what I made:


Jelibe said…
O that's such a wonderful story. I wish my family had stayed close. My Grandma and Grandad lived out in country and we used to go there on weekends and play in the fields.
Happy days.
Oh than you jelibe for coming here and commenting! Family is so importnt and I get more nostalgic s I get older. :)
Jeff said…
Your Aunt Ruth lived in Hollywood, right? Not Homestead. I'm sure I would have known her if she did! I wish that my family had not run away from Ft. Wayne - I envy the extended family relations that you experienced as you grew up. It was so wonderful to read this - I knew very little of your Mom's side of the family.
You're so right, Jeff. "Hollywood" it is! Thanks for catching that; edit made. "Homestead", "Hollywood"; what canI tell you? They both start with "H"! Maybe I was thinking of you in Homestead as I wrote it. How are you?
Aunt Gwen,

I just read your latest blog "My Needlework Legacy", and I just wanted to tell you how neat I thought that was. To learn some things about my Great Grandmother that I didn't know and to just read about some of the things you talked about was heartwarming. The times you describe spending with your grandma reminded me so much of all the time I spent with Nanny and all the good talks we would have, watching basketball together, finding bargain treasurers, she even taught me how to sew around age 10 also, you are right she didn't have the patience and I must have inherited that trait from her because I do the same thing with my girls, I would much rather do it myself. I miss her so much! It is so neat to see all the talents and personality traits that she passed down to each one of us, I feel lucky that I got a lot of them.

I printed the blog entry and I will keep it and some day show it to the girls so they can see what an amazing person their Great Grandma was and their Great Aunt is. You are such a good writer and an inspiration to me with all of your talent. Thanks for sharing!

Love you,


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