Endless threads

In a recent post on this blog, I talked about the importance of knowing what we have, having it in appropriate quantity, and remembering where it is stored. (In permaculture design, this principle is called “Stocking.”) In an affluent society, where people readily accumulate “stuff” even without trying, even in fact when outright RESISTING, that becomes a challenging task.

My inheritance of thread, needles, fabric now spans four generations of women. We were a long line of seamstresses, quilters, knitters, crocheters.

Of course, even if we remember what we have, we may possess it in excess quantity such that it succumbs to damage or decay before getting used up. That’s what seems to have happened to the 10 little spools of silk darning-thread in this tiny slim cardboard box that I discovered within a large Container Store box of thread I inherited from my Mom. The thread breaks readily with a tug of the hand. It can be hard to know in advance how much of something we’ll need, and erring on the side of excess may be human nature, especially if you’ve known times of scarcity or carry them in your ancestral memory. (Which, hey, is probably all of us to a degree.)

I have captured its beauty just now in photos (which you can see in this post on my Deep Green Facebook page ), and also have honored its creation by looking up the name of the mill on the box. The Heminway & Bartlett Silk Mfg. Co., Watertown, Connecticut.

And, although it might seem sad, I am now going to compost the box of thread. The entire box and its contents are returnable to Mother Earth without harm, and there’s actually great dignity and beauty to that. I wish we would be quick to return to old packaging methods like this. (Update: The little box of old silk thread fits into my newly organized thread-box without a squeeze, so I’m keeping it for now; it is just so charming.)

My online search yielded a website dedicated to old mills in Connecticut! For each mill, it gives historic information as well as any current purposes the old mill building is being used for. Apparently part of “my” mill is now being used as a day spa!

H&B was a silk-thread mill founded in the 1880s. And apparently it did not close til the early 2000s. Here is the “old mills” website, open to H&B’s page.

Many times (in this blog, and out and about in the world) I get started on a topic, only to find it doesn’t tie up neatly. I keep finding other threads of connection.

My maternal grandfather owned a knitting mill in Fall River, Massachusetts. (He also had a career as an efficiency consultant for factories and other companies. He was an engineer, educated at MIT.)

My maternal grandmother could knit and read at the same time, she was that good. My maternal grandparents were of English and Scottish descent and I believe though don’t know for sure that the ancestors from that side came over in the 1700s. There were some French Huguenots in the mix also.

On my Dad’s side, both my grandmother and my grandfather worked at a sewing factory. GenTex Corp., in Carbondale, Pennsylvania. (Grandpa was also the teacher at the one-room schoolhouse in the hamlet of Simpson PA.) The ancestors on that side of my family came over from Eastern Europe in the early 1900s. They spoke a language that wasn’t pure Polish but I believe most of them identified as Polish. The women on that side of the family were geniuses with a needle and thread; the men were virtuoso carpenters.

Some of this information might be wrong. Pretty much everyone in the generation before ours is gone now though, so things are hard to check. It’s one thing I regret: not having been more of a student of my ancestry. Not that it’s easy in this modern bleached-white culture, but many people do have knowledge of those ancestral threads. Losing our ancestral connections is an extremely unmooring sensation.

In school, my favorite-favorite subjects were Art and Home Ec. But I had a hard time admitting that to myself because, in “book-smart” circles, those were considered classes for “dumb people,” and if you were book-smart you were expected to aim higher, go to college. Quite honestly, I struggled with most academic subjects, once they expected you to get your nose out of the book and actually put pen to paper; dissect and analyze; make pronouncements. But I was raised in a privileged environment (where I was led to believe I was “academically gifted,” despite the fact that my work in academic subjects was only ever mediocre at best, aside from a seemingly natural affinity for learning languages), so not only did I get into college; I actually made it through college (by the skin of my teeth, though I’m not sure anyone, even my own parents, knew how thin a skin that was). I didn’t even know being a seamstress could be a serious thing.

No regrets about my path; it’s a rich tapestry of many colors and textures. My only regret would be that I may have taken someone else’s spot in college (or later, in office jobs) who deserved it more. Anyway, whether or not that actually happened, I am privileged, and as such I owe it to my ancestors, to my living family members, to my community, and to society as a whole to use my privilege in service of the greater good.

The box of thread I’m sorting and organizing now is a clear plastic rectangle-cube about a foot wide, a foot and a half long, and six inches deep. It contains countless spools of thread, still good, in a full range of colors. The contents of this box are only a tiny fraction of my thread stash (let alone my stash of embroidery flosses). Somehow even just sitting still in the box, the spools have become unspooled, and threads tangled. Just now I wound them all up. A satisfying outcome if you’re obsessive like me.

I’m thinking of putting a post on NextDoor just to let people know they should talk to me before even thinking about buying thread. Or seam-binding. Or — great gods and little fishhooks (a favorite expression of my grandfather’s who owned the knitting mill) — zippers. So many zippers, of all possible colors and I mean all possible colors, still in their original packaging.