These days, everyone is getting on board with upcycling, or creating something unique from existing materials rather than buying more. My granny, Margaret Shervey—affectionately called Bobo—has spent 92 years doing just that out of necessity.
Wasting time and resources was never an option in the world she grew up in. When her husband returned from the coal mine, she had bottle-fed the lambs—with seven children under 10 at her apron strings. She had picked filberts at the nearest farm, earning a little more money for her family. Her dinner rolls had been set to rise first thing that morning, and her potatoes soaked all day to make a supper side dish and a treat of lefse for later. As the roast finished in the oven, she scrubbed the floors on her hands and knees, using a rag made from the shirt Grandpa wore out the year before.
Bobo has been upcycling since the day Great-Granny Annie put a needle in her hand and taught her how to give new life to every fabric in their Minnesota farmhouse. Granny didn’t salvage grain sacks and work pants to craft. She did it to survive. There was always a job for a scrap, even when there wasn’t a scrap to be had.
Just like Bobo, my mother, Cindy Curry, grew up making her clothes. She planned her homecoming dress and bought the fabric with money she earned working at the cannery. One generation passed on to the next the art of creating something beautiful and useful by hand.
Granny’s and Mom’s sewing skills meant that no matter the budget, Christmas, birthday, and wedding gifts were possible. From a baby blanket hand-appliqued by Bobo to a bib sewn by Mom, each treasure carries a special touch of personalization.
In my home I am surrounded by upcycling at its best. Quilts, wall hangings, stockings and more are cherished family keepsakes. My son Wilhelm is 2 and about to welcome a little brother into his room, which is filled with Bobo’s pillows.
Moose, bear, fish, deer, plaids and evergreen trees are perfect for a little Paul Bunyan. Someday he and his sibling will use her creations as the walls of forts, mighty shields, and weapons for pillow fights.
My son Wilhelm is 2 and about to welcome a little brother into his room, which is filled with Bobo’s pillows.
Coupons and conveniences have made the budget a little less stingy, so Mom and Bobo have turned their sewing skills into a hobby. They scour garage sales and thrift stores for Pendleton blankets and shirts that open a million possibilities to their artistic eyes.
You won’t find their creations online or in a mega-store, only at craft sales found by chance down a country road. With totes full of gifts and necessities for kitchen, couch and baby, they offer their wares to those seeking homemade goods.
Thanks to Bobo’s old-fashioned ways, the artistry of handwork lives on in four generations of crafters. Granny Bobo lived it. Mom carried it on. I am picking it up by listening and observing. Now my daughter, Greta, who loves her planet, is also learning to use those skills.
I sit and watch closely as Bobo’s hands weave needle and thread. In 92 years, her hands have known and cherished life, home and family.
Age has brought the loss of some memories, and her stitching is not as tight as it used to be. But if you listen to her stories while she sews, stories she knows by heart, you’ll journey back to the old farm with her. And you’ll understand that the wobblier the stitch, the finer the work of art.