February has been a mixed month so far. Beautiful bright days, sunsets and a fun new patchwork project but tempered by the emotional experience of finally clearing our family home after my mum died 18 months ago. Its sold and is due to complete soon, so it must be done.
I am not a materialistic person in the sense that I don’t hanker after the latest designer clothing or the most up-to-date gadgets. But I am no minimalist and neither was my mum! Right now, it is boggling my mind just how much ‘stuff’ we accumulate as we go through life. I am still finding it hard to deal with the things my mum had in her home and would be in trouble if I had a Feng Shui consultation…
Some of my mum’s things I definitely wanted to keep, no question. Like the jug she made at a ceramics class when I was at university. I put my flowers in it for the kitchen table and I love it to bits. The flowers she hand painted on it are bright and sassy and look good whatever flowers I choose.
Other things have been much harder.
When my mum died 18 months ago, my brother and I knew we had quite a big task ahead of us. My parents had built our house in the early 1960s when they got married. We both grew up there and have then visited regularly since we left home. I took my own children there for 18 years and they visited grandma on a close to weekly basis for much of their childhood. The house represented 50 years of the life of a family, our family, and everything in it was therefore very personal. Going through each room, drawer, cupboard and going through all of my mum’s belongings, memories and keepsakes was very, very emotional.
We both felt, however, that the job had to be done because the house had to go on the market. Our parents built the house with love, they loved living in it and it was my mum’s refuge when she was widowed over 30 years ago. We had a responsibility to make sure that it was cleared, maintained and sold so that it could be a home again.
Before she died my mum had said to me that she wanted her clothes to go to Marie Curie. We had been supported by Marie Curie nurses in those last weeks and she was very definite about this. It was therefore relatively easy and guilt-free to pack her clothes up, including hats and outfits she bought for weddings and christenings over the years, and take them to the Marie Curie shop in Sheffield. I would have lliked to have given them more items, but Sheffield is a bit too far (35 miles) for regular trips.
Instead I freecycled some of the furniture and sold some items on Ebay, donating the money to Marie Curie through the Ebay system. Most of the contents of the wardrobes, drawers and cupboards came back to my house and I painstakingly went through it all to make decisions about where it should all end up. I felt that I owed my mum that, rather than just getting someone in to do a house clearance.
But it was hard work and it too AGES… Over the last year I have made myself revisit boxes and slowly, I have got through it. There are still a few boxes dotted about but by Christmas this year, there I was thinking I had it cracked. Until…
When the house went up for sale we left some furniture, ornaments and pictures to ‘dress’ the house so that it looked less like it was empty. It was obvious it was a probate sale but estate agents say that its always better for a bedroom to have a bed in it and for a lounge to have settees and so on. After a year on the market, we got an offer between Christmas and New Year and were very happy as the buyers knew my mum and dad and had always wanted to live in the village where the house is.
I arranged with my brother to spend a day last week sorting out the last few final things. A quick job, all the work had been done, or so I thought.
Instead, it turned out to be one of the more painful parts of the clearance process – we had to set about dismantling the lounge. This was just as my mum had had it, with all the ornaments and furniture as she had left it. I had cleaned, dusted and hoovered over the last year and we had wound the clock, but it was all still in place. Taking it all apart, taking down the pictures and just leaving the settees and chairs for when we hire a van later in the month, was heartbreaking.
Most poignant of all was taking away the little brass ornaments that my mum had put on the mantlepiece, probably shortly after my parents had moved in there in March 1962. They had been polished each week and had been there for 53 years. I can’t really explain why taking them down affected me so much, but it did.
I brought them home and contemplated them, while they contemplated me.
I will have to find a place for them, but don’t yet know where that will be. Part of me wants to hide them but the other part wants to put them somewhere to see them everyday so that they become just objects again.
A return to sewing
Although I had a long break from doing creative things, with a 30 year break in my crocheting and knitting, I have done some sewing on and off during the years. My mum was a brilliant seamstress and made a lot of my clothes when I was little. She’s made cushions and curtains and tablecloths for my home in the last few years and I did a little bit of dressmaking about 20 years ago and we enjoyed doing cross stitch together when my children were small.
But for the last 10 years or so, I haven’t done that much. Being a single parent, I had to focus on the day job and being the breadwinner as well as supporting my children through school and college. Now they are both at university, and because I don’t have my mum to visit and spend time with, I have a lot more time. I’ve chosen to fill it being creative and this has been a very good decision I think as its given me a sense of achievement and goals to aim for. I’ve also met a lot of like-minded people both in real life and in the virtual world on Facebook, blogland and Instagram.
Having got back into crochet and knitting, I thought 2015 would be the year I also got back into sewing. Not really dressmaking yet but I have always loved the idea of making patchwork.
During January I’ve been going to a local group and have been picking the brains of a friend who learned quilting when she lived in Australia.
I’m starting small with a patchwork cushion and its coming along. I’ve done some of the stitching by hand and some by machine to practice both. Its not perfect, I’ve made loads of mistakes but I have really enjoyed the process.
A sewing station
This weekend I decided that rather than throw away my mum’s kitchen table, I would use it to set up a sewing station in my office/studio, which is the room above the large garage at my house. Its very light and perfect for working on all sorts of things and I am pleased to be ready to sew on the same machine and at the same table that my mum used. Yes, its a bit sentimental but I am a bit fan of upcycling too – why go out and buy another table when I have a perfectly good one already?
Next to the table is my lovely turquoise Ikea unit, which I will reorganise and store all of my materials and sewing bits. Although this is my first sewing project for a while, I have my mum’s stash of threads, haberdashery and quite a few nice fabrics, so I will set it up properly over the next couple of weeks.
Next to that is my mum’s ironing board, complete with her iron, which is stored in the other Ikea cabinets that I have put together back-to-back to make a cutting table. I need to put my cutting mat on there but its really all ready to go.
I’ve finished it all off with some vintage table cloths that I had stored away that my mum had kept. They are lovely both in the feel of the fabric and the design – perfect to inspire me as I sew.