Memory, creative living and fun in crocheting ragsAs I stacked the folded scraps of cotton print leftovers from the last apron I made onto the pile of remnants growing on the shelf in my fabric stash, I was visited by a memory from another time and place not so long ago or very far away.
As I stacked the folded scraps of cotton print leftovers from the last apron I made onto the pile of remnants growing on the shelf in my fabric stash, I was visited by a memory from another time and place not so long ago or very far away.
Our Italian grandmother (although we LeGarde kids were not Italian, it was our good luck to have an Italian grandmother- by-marriage) who immigrated to Duluth when she was a young woman, was a woman of an era and culture that took pride and satisfaction in combining that necessity of thriftiness with creativity and enjoyment. She gardened, kept chickens, and never wasted anything.
Even worn-out and ragged clothing. She mended and patched, re-used buttons (which she kept in a jar), and when the clothing was no longer of use, turned it into scrub rags, dusting cloths … and crocheted rugs.
I remember sitting next to her watching her tear her husband’s and sons’ old shirts into long strips that she knotted together and wound into a ball that grew larger and larger. She then began to crochet with an oversized crochet hook, and the ball of rag strips gradually (magically, it seemed to me) changed into a rug shaped in a circle or oval. These she usually gave away to her friends and family.
When I was a little girl we had several of her rugs around the house. The rugs were pretty, absorbent, washable, and held the spirit of women we knew going about their days’ work in flowered housedresses, of men in chambray or striped shirts at their labors on work crews and the shoe repair shop.
Our mother loved the rugs as she loved the people who had worn the shirts and dresses, and especially the Italian mother-by-marriage who had made them and gifted them to her. When she washed the rugs, she dried them on a clothesline and, when they were nearly dry, set them on the kitchen floor, where she stood, walked and sometimes stomped and danced them back into their perfect circles or ovals.
Looking at the stack of fabric leftovers and thinking of my mother and our Italian grandmother, I thought I would try crocheting rags, but because I didn’t feel quite ready to try an entire rug decided on a square hot mat (trivet) for the kitchen table. This is how I, a grandmother in the 21st century, went about the task:
I cut fabric scraps into strips approximately 3 to 4 inches wide and stitched the strips together, end to end. I wound this into a ball that grew larger and larger, and then my granddaughter Mary stopped by to visit. When she saw the ball of scraps she picked it up and held it in her arms.
“This is pretty; what is it?” she asked, which again brought lovely memories to my mind. I could see that she thought the ball was a work of art in itself, the way I had thought when I was a little girl. When I answered that I was going to crochet it into a rug or a hot mat, she looked quite impressed!
It took me only about an hour to make a large hot mat. With my largest crochet hook (the big plastic kind), I began with a chain of 12 stitches, then double-crocheted 6 rows. When the mat reached about 10 x 12 inches I stopped, and single-crocheted around the edges. It is quite thick, and should work very well to protect a table from a hot tea kettle, saucepan or hot (casserole!) dish.
And in the fabric, knotted from aprons I have made for women I love, some baby quilts, and cotton sun dresses I made for my grown daughters to wear to a wedding a few summers ago , I can see colors and patterns of our history as it continues to unfold.
Monthly columnist Linda LeGarde Grover is a professor of American Indian studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth, an award-winning writer and a member of the Bois Forte Band of the Minnesota Chippewa Tribe. E-mail her at email@example.com.