Why Vintage? Reason #4

IMG_2328I’m a sentimental fool. That’s why, since I started this series asking, “Why vintage?,” I’ve been looking forward to reason #4.

The question was, why do some people love vintage so much? The first reason I discussed was that vintage is fashionable; the second was a sense of ethics and commitment to reuse; the third was the related issues of cost and quality.

All of these aforementioned reasons are legit but the one that really gets to me, and to many lovers of vintage, is that these old things either belonged to, or are associated with, the people, places, and eras we loved and have lost.

4) It’s a choice motivated by a sense of sentiment and nostalgia

Some people just don’t get this at all. We all know these people. They can’t understand why anyone would want old, used stuff. They live in the present and don’t look back. I’m sure they love their families but they don’t need used belongings around to prove it!

If you’re one of those people, read on to learn about what makes the rest of us tick! The rest of you, the ones who get it already—think about your own precious reminders as you read about some of mine!

First let me make a distinction—the difference to me between sentiment and nostalgia is that the former has to do with affection for people and the latter has to do with a desire for a simpler time or place.

I get sentimental about the old things that bear the imprint of my family. Every vintage or antique item from my family tells a story. The story may be based on facts or it may be just one that I sort of made up to fit my memories but the story is what makes the object precious.

I have my grandmother’s baby cup. It has some extrinsic value—it’s fine quality, it’s an antique, it’s a lovely design.

Inscription: Lydia 1905

Inscription: Lydia 1905

None of that matters to me. All I can think about is the baby Lydia, born in 1905, who received the cup as a namesake gift from her great-aunt Lydia, who was born in 1847, and was the daughter of another Lydia born in 1808! Thinking of the baby Lydia playing with the pretty cup adds a dimension to my idea of my grandmother and has encouraged me to learn about the Lydias who came before her.

Lydia Bowen Wright, 1905

Lydia Bowen Wright, 1905-2002

Lydia Bowrn Thomas, 1847-1939

Lydia Bowrn Thomas, 1847-1939

Similarly, every time I fold a big old damask linen tablecloth, I have visions of that same grandmother and how she would fold one, to minimize the wrinkles at the fold lines. And that Jadeite coffee cup, just like the one my mother carried around the house all day when I was little! The old things aren’t just things—they speak to me about people.

I also get nostalgic in response to the vintage items I come across that were never owned by my actual family. If I see a table at a flea market with that 1960s Formica that had the boomerang shapes and the glitter, it transports me right back to the kitchen of the house we had when I was a happy little girl.

I have also accumulated vintage maple syrup tins because some of my fondest memories of growing up center around the sugar house we had on the farm and the process of making maple syrup. The tins just give me a warm, fuzzy feeling! And how about that great paint-by-numbers picture of sugaring down?

IMG_2321I know I’m not the only person who feels this way, too! The interactions I’ve had with people who buy vintage items from my Etsy shop and with blog readers tell me that sentiment and nostalgia are behind a lot of vintage love. Just a few of the comments I’ve received:

  • Thank you for the lovely damask napkins. They are every bit as soft as my grandmother’s were!
  • I was so pleased . . . It reminds me of linens my Grandmother had.
  • My mother had one just like this!
  • I especially cherish a bread basket liner she crocheted with the word “bread” misspelled. I think I love it more so because it isn’t perfect.
  • I wonder who owned these things, what was their story? . . . I guess I see a lot of character in those old items while new shiny items have no stories to tell yet.

There sure are a lot of us out there!

It’s true one can become overwhelmed by the reminders of the past. I know people who have so many knickknacks from their grandparents, recipes from their mothers, toys from when they were children, concert tickets from when they were in college, pictures of their children, etc., etc., that they find it difficult to surface from the memories and the detritus.

I am trying to reach a point where I pick a few extra-special items that connect me to my past and let the rest go. My cousins plan to line up all the stuffed toys and dolls they’ve kept from their childhood and take a photo and then get rid of the toys themselves. But I know I simply will not want to part with a lot of things. And so I won’t!

How about you? What is your most treasured piece of family history? What do you collect for reasons of sentiment or nostalgia? Christmas ornaments? Mid-century dishes? Or does it all just leave you cold?

 

Loving Hands: Connecting Two Generations

Banker quilt pendant-4When it comes to a trove of items made by “loving hands at home,” I am one of the lucky ones. I have many, many treasures made by members of my family.

I am very sentimental about these things and I like to have them out where I can see them. I have a wooden knife box, made by grandmother’s grandmother’s father, in the kitchen holding my dishcloths. We use my husband’s grandmother’s hand embroidered pillowcases on the bed. And I used the scrap of an old, old quilt, with my great-grandmother’s signature, to make a silver pendant.

The quilt: An old patchwork quilt, done as a friendship quilt; each person would stitch a block with their signature in the center, then the pieces would be put together by the group. Sometimes these quilts were made as a gift to a person marrying or leaving to move West. Sometimes they were made by members of a church, with each signer paying for their block, as a way to raise money for the church. This quilt was made in a variety of fabrics, set into off-white cotton and with a center square for the signature.

Banker quilt pendant-2My quilt had been used hard and then stored badly for too many years. By the time it came to me, it had huge holes through the fabric and batting and was filthy. Though some people will say I was wrong to do so, I cut it up and salvaged what I could, with an eye toward doing something to preserve the remnants at a future date. I saved all the signature blocks, including a number with names I recognized, made by women and men. One block said “Grandma Banker.”

Banker quilt pendant-3Based on the other signatures and family memories, I identified the “grandma” as Ella Banker, mother of my paternal grandmother and born in 1867.

The pendant: I studied jewelry making as an art student in college and then did nothing with it for years. I became a college professor in an entirely different field but the college at which I worked offered jewelry making and silversmithing so, after about 25 years, I was back in the studio.

We received the assignment to make a piece of jewelry that represented our notion of “precious.” I knew I wanted to focus on family and connections so I chose to incorporate the “Grandma Banker” quilt scrap into the jewelry.

I made the pendant of sterling silver and created a tiny oval box into which the fabric would nestle. I cut the front and back, using a jeweler’s saw, and scalloped the edges to suggest lace. I used tube rivets to hold the pieces of the box together; these hold tightly just by fitting them properly and I thought the hollow middle of the tubes added to the look of stylized lace.

Banker quilt pendant-5Banker quilt pendant-6I used plexiglass on the front, to protect the old fabric. I wanted to be sure that the piece wasn’t airtight, so the fabric could breathe and not get mildewed, so I used my saw to spell out my great grandmother’s name and birth year on the back of the pendant.

Banker quilt pendant-7It was hugely satisfying to find a way to incorporate an old one-of-a-kind family treasure into a new one-of-a-kind piece. I still haven’t done anything with the rest of the quilt pieces but I have ideas!

I’m always drawn to the re-purposing of old treasures. I’d love to hear about ways you continue to weave the pieces of your family’s past into your present life!

Banker quilt pendant-8