Remembering Who We Are Through Crafting & Art


My mother passed away almost two years ago. I inherited some of her things, and I was going through a few of them yesterday when I came across the silver thimble on the right in the photo above. It was very tarnished, but I thought I could make out "E.B. Huddell" inscribed around it. I carefully polished the silver and knew almost right away that I was correct - this was my great grandmother's thimble. I sent a photo of it off to Jen, who has a benign mania for genealogy, for which I am eternally grateful. She was able to determine that my great grandmother, Elizabeth B. Huddell, was born around 1877. That was a date that was not known to me. I know from her wedding ring, which I also have, that she was married to Joseph Cochran Barnard in 1901, and of course took his name. So...this thimble dates from the last quarter of the 19th century. It fits me perfectly, and I intend to sew with it, extremely carefully and not too much, because it's silver and silver is soft. So there will be rugs bound and pillows finished with Elizabeth's thimble. My mother was named for her, and I was named for my mother...and so there is a continuity that means much to me.

The thimble on the left I've had in my possession since 1986. It belonged to my brother, Albert V. Colangelo, Jr. As near as I can tell, this thimble is stainless steel, or some other alloy, because it does not tarnish. So many tears have fallen on that thimble that if it were going to tarnish, it would have by now. My brother was a master tailor and leather worker. He was so many other things, but these are the roles that explain why he had a thimble, and why it was in the pocket of his leather jacket as I held it close to me - just to get his scent or try to feel him near - the day after he was killed in an airplane accident. Albert's thimble is too big for me - I can't really sew with it - but it's been worn around my neck when I've run road races, kept settled in a pocket when I've felt I needed added strength, and is always - always - with my hooking and sewing notions so that I see it every day, and remember how much this extraordinarily loving man contributed to who I am.

There is something about objects that we work closely with, creatively with, lovingly with, that gives them a life of their own. But even more than that, if they are handed down they connect us with our past, and the people who either loved us or never knew us but have loved us in the abstract as "our future generations." Elizabeth Huddell had no way of knowing that over 100 years after she received it, her great granddaughter - also Elizabeth - would be sewing with her thimble. In fact, Elizabeth Huddell didn't even get a chance to know my mother, her granddaughter, Elizabeth - she died before my mother was born. My brother had no way to know that the thimble he used in his every day work would someday be an irreplaceable talisman of strength for his little sister, just trying to make her way in a world that suddenly seemed so much colder without him.

As crafters, artists, and artisans, there is so much life and emotion in what we do, and often our tools are symbols of something bigger than anything we produce, bigger than we are. That "bigger thing" is what inspires us, connects us, and helps us to remember who we are. Most of us have these heirlooms. We'd enjoy hearing the stories you might want to share about yours.

A very joyous Valentine's Day to you, filled with love, memories, and the making of beautiful things that future generations will ponder over in their hearts. ~ Beth

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