Ruth sorting through “Thread and Stuff”

On the front coffee table my eyes focused upon an array of some 75 spools of thread exhibiting together lustrous rainbowlike colors of the spectrum. Inquiring as to the reason for this display my wife Ruth informed she was in the process of downsizing sewing supplies. Sorting through a box titled Thread and Stuff spools of thread, needles, stick pins, and other sewing essentials  found themselves cast aside on the table – rejected victims of downsizing .  Informed as to the reason for this display I registered a note of nostalgia recalling the importance of sewing as a worthy skill in our home.  Initially taught by her mother, Ruth in turn taught sewing skill to daughter Victoria.  Sewing skill  Victoria has taken to a stitching art form. Personally expressing nostalgia in remembering scenes of mother-in-law, wife, and daughter in specific scenes practicing their sewing craft Ruth replied:  “The heck with nostalgia, it’s gotta go”.  Upon further thought came the reply: “That’s right”.

Ruth’s mother, due to lack of access to the family exchequer, out of necessity made much of her own clothes as well as that of her four daughters. Desiring her own money she served as seamstress for students at Indiana University.  Even after her daughter’s marriage she sent  clothes she had sewn.  Vividly I remember her on a visit rustling  shoddy couch seats she was providing  with new slip covers.

As a thirteen year old,  Ruth seriously engaged sewing. Desiring a tan chambray dress in the Seventeen magazine for the exorbitant cost of $17.95 her mother came to the rescue.  Stating “we can make that for $5”.  Pattern was laid out, a trip  to the fabric store followed,  demonstration  how to cut and sew the fabric – the rest is history.  Sewing proved a relaxing activity for Ruth often sewing for herself in the context of a lively household.

Part of that history was our impending marriage. Ruth received a nuptial check of  some $50 or $75 –  at the time  a considerable bonanza.  As prospective groom I assumed this a  fine start for family discretionary funds. Needless to state I was disabused of that idea as the prospective bride invested in her own sewing machine. Ever since my bride became in charge of the family exchequer.  Sewing some of her own clothes and with the arrival of five daughters children’s dresses and doll clothes were sewn.  Later costumes for school plays were created.  Hemming my pants and attaching buttons were often needed.  Symbolically Ruth has sewn a christening dress stored in the hope chest for eventual great-grandchildren’s christening.

Daughter Victoria  began sewing as a thirteen year old  learning with mother’s tutelage on the sewing machine that was her mother’s wedding gift purchase.  She crafted  white corduroy dresses  with red lace for three younger sisters.  Victoria sewed doll clothes for her siblings.   At age thirteen she created  an olive -green shift. Later with her mother they produced individualized Christmas stockings for all six siblings patterned after that of great-grandmother Bartling.  These stockings heralded Christmas and were hung on fireplaces and railings throughout growing years in their parental home.

The monthly issue of Becketwood Cooperative’s  “Time” announced:  “The art show for June will feature stitchery of Victoria Bartling.  During a difficult period when dealing with cancer and transplant surgery, Victoria discovered the art of stitchery, and used it as a means to express her struggles and conquest over illness.”   “Voices of Hope & Healing”, a publication of National Bone Marrow Transplant Link, ( printed in 2011 an article of Victoria titled: “Why I Sew” along with her Cover Art:  “Lucia’s Quilt”.  In her words Victoria stated:  “In my own hand I stitched the story of how life changes in an instant, that this is a journey with a perfect ending whichever way it goes, and that in the end, ‘all will be well””.   As a post scrip now ten years past transplant Victoria writes:  “I have the luxury of survivorship and value time, telling myself, ‘Look! Listen! Pay attention! There is beauty all around, and you may never pass this way again.  My life with sewing continues, but it does not have the life/death intensity it once did, and thankfully so.  Now I can sew for the sheer joy and celebration of it, like making the quilt featured on the beautiful cover of this booklet as a gift to my niece, entitled  “Lucias Quilt.”

Victoria’s stitchery will be placed by the curator in the Becketwood Gallery along with Lucia’s Quilt this Friday, June 1,2012  with an opening reception.

Small wonder that one feels nostalgia as well as gratitude that THREAD AND STUFF  experiences downsizing.   It is well that the skill and art of sewing is passed down the generations.  Indeed,  ALL IS WELL.

Published by profbartling1

Retired professor Concordia University, St. Paul, Mn. Taught mainly American History. Also taught in other areas of history, philosophy, and theology,


  1. Aa a Professor of Fashion Design, and a fashion designer (as well as one who has a mother who is an incredible seamstress) this really struck a chord with me. Today’s generation, growing up without even Home Economics in the school systems, is so mystified about the sewing machine and their creative and practical everyday applications. As with your Ruth, my Mother was given her own Singer featherweight sewing machine as a wedding gift in 1957 by her parents and she too used that machine for everything from clothing to home decorating! I am the only of three children who was ever fascinated by that machine, and went on to making a career using it! Thank you so much for sharing—just terrific!

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