How often do you think about heirlooms?
Probably not very often, at least not everyday? What do you think of, when you think of an heirloom? Do you think of dusty, expensive old pieces of family history, resigned to lords or an old cupboard that is never opened?
The Cambridge Dictionary describes Heirloom as “a valuable object that has been given by older members of a family to younger members of the same family over many years”. “a fruit, plant, or seed of a type that has existed for many years:”
I think about heirlooms regularly. I am grateful every single time I use an heirloom and oh so lucky I have some. But, my heirlooms aren’t what you picture probably. One of my most precious heirlooms is a metal tin, packed by my grandma with silk thread, a thimble, spare buttons. It's a travel sewing kit, that I use regularly. I feel an intrinsic link to my maternal Grandmother, who put these items in, with her own hands decades ago. It's also the new scissors my Mum bought for me recently to fit in perfectly. It is also the thick cotton shirt that my Grandma bought and wore, that I wear now. That I wore in Melbourne, working in a restaurant. That I wear very regularly as it's so comfortable, it's seen us through three apartment moves.
It’s the handmade jars, all unique, that she admired and bought for her home, perhaps over 50 years ago. The plates and cups, that I still love and use daily. Her handmade clothing too, I still have some of (although, some items now show age, especially the silk items).
This makes me wonder. What do I buy, when I need it, that will stand the test of time and that I can pass on, to my Grandchildren? What do I buy that she’d want?! The clothes that I bought in my teens, certainly not- if not only because of the poor quality of the fast fashion I bought then. The Ikea furniture? Will it last to gift on?
I’ve reignited my creative spark, especially for crafting and sewing (making my own reusable bags, decorations, face masks etc) is a passion that I adore, and I am so so grateful that I am supported in this, with the high quality “gifts” that my grandmother left. From sewing needles, materials to her paints, her beautiful, hand selected (sometimes from around the world) household items that I use to this day. But it’s not just the physical heirlooms.
What knowledge and skills have I been given and what will I pass on? What knowledge will you pass on? Like passing on the special varieties of fruit and vegetables (an important aspect of sustainable food systems), will I pass on the knowledge of how to grow those vegetables? What skills, an invaluable, time sensitive gift will I pass to my children and grandchildren.
I remember loving watching my mum as a child as she cooked. Watching hands move without conscious thought, at her art form, as she created the most delicious healthy meals. In fact I still love this, I just try to help more than just watch in awe. I feel so lucky to have had this time to watch, as now I instinctively know how to cook many of those dishes my mum loves to cook. Also to know what things are in the hedgerows, how to use them, like the Sloe gin my Mum likes to make and has shown me how too. What vegetables to plant where, and the basic skills of growing.
When I was about 10, I stayed with my Grandma and Grandpa in their home in the New Forest for a few days, it was such fun and I wore my grandparents out! I remember vividly, trying to creep into my Grandma’s office, that was absolutely stacked high with crafting materials. So many opportunities! She did all kinds of crafting in her lifetime, alongside the WI (Womens Institute), she knew how to create so many things herself. I am often sad about the time I missed with my Grandparents, on both sides. I never met my paternal Grandparents. But I had time with my maternal Grandparents, and I wish I had more.
For me, as well as the homewares that got me through the periods of being broke but wanting to create a household, I want to be able to pass gifts on to my potential children that will support them, beyond my time. A magical golden invisible thread from my Grandmother, and my Mum, to me and then beyond into future generations. To mend clothes, even create clothes, to understand the bounty of a hedgerow- the taste of elderflower in spring, quince jelly saved for Christmas. To cook special meals from homegrown vegetables. To have special items, to just us, with our story- a handmade advent calendar, christmas decorations that are passed on, treasured and evoke joy when they go up every year. The physical and the knowledge heirlooms.
Our modern world is so fast, fractured and divided at the moment. It brings me so much happiness and joy, to think of the metaphorical loving hand of my Grandma, on my shoulder as I craft using her threads and thimbles, as I use my Mum’s sewing machine, wearing Grandmas gingham shirt.
Can we slow and think, about what we consume, what we buy, what we learn and what we spread as our weaving of the golden thread to the future? Life beyond us. For many of us, it will also go beyond our own children. It may be our friends children, that are our next generation. How can we gift them with the knowledge that is in some cases in danger of extinction? What skills that aren’t necessarily taught, can we impart as our children grow? Not just those skills that will help save waste but that ignite creativity, bring joy and allow others to express themselves. Skills for life, bringing our lives back to centre beyond the million distractions.
Like that quiet half an hour, of sewing back on a button.