A Timely Stitch Weaving Together Generations

How my grandmother’s work still lives today

Paul Dorsey
Age of Empathy
5 min readFeb 25, 2021

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Patch from the Invisible Weaver. Pictures by author.

I can’t unsee the picture on Facebook. It’s not bad, not at all.

My daughters posted it for my birthday, the three of us clowning around on a beach at sundown. As I look at it, I realize it shows more than you might think.

First, Daughter #1 isn’t a teenager anymore. She hit twenty a few weeks earlier, which means I’m getting old.

Two, the lighting on the beach must have distorted the camera. There’s no way that I look that old.

Plaid pocket-liner. Photo provided by the author.

With the big smiles on their faces, it’s as if they set me up, both wearing jean jackets with the perfect fade to match the gray in my hair. They are already smarter than me.

Daughter #2 paid, or rather, I paid a premium for the comfort of acid-wash denim. Hers is plain and worn through at the shoulder. It matches the older Levi’s brand on Daughter #1.

But that jacket acquired its style the hard way — over time.

And if it could talk, the stories it could tell.

My grandmother’s voice is a distant memory now. Maybe I would recognize it if I heard it again, but she’s been gone for almost 20 years.

As a teenager, I wanted a faded jean jacket along with the rest of the world. Levi’s had a flannel-lined model with tartan on the inside. The soft liner was prematurely aged and, if you folded the cuffs, it revealed a blue and black pattern.

My part-time job at the law firm only paid three bucks an hour. I’d be out of high school before I saved enough, so I settled for the dark-blue trucker with sleeves like cardboard.

On a visit to my grandmother or “Mom Mom” as we called her, I hinted about the “cool” jacket that was out of my reach.

“Are you worried about the look or do you want the warmth from the flannel?” she asked.

I just wanted it to be unique, but faded.

“Let’s see what we can find in the sewing room,” she said as she led me to a bedroom she converted to a small tailor shop from the remains of her family business.

We weaved through a maze of tables piled high with assorted fabrics that led to a professional sewing machine. She had a collection of tomato pincushions stabbed with needles and a coffee can chock-full of buttons and thimbles. A yellow measuring tape lined with blue scales snaked its way around the work area. And I’ll never forget that jumbo pair of steel scissors that could amputate a leg below the knee.

A metal torso mounted on a pole with no arms or legs always intimidated me. It shadowed a colorful display of thread on wooden spools with holes poking through their labels.

Stretching the dark blue jacket from arm to arm, she dialed in on the project as she directed me to a bin under the ironing board. It was easy to find, but the leftover scraps in a myriad of sizes, colors, and shapes didn’t give me much confidence in her plan, whatever it was.

“Dig deep,” she said. “There’s some flannel in there.”

Today, that box reminds me of my contractor friend's clutter on the dashboard of his pickup. He may not be able to see the car in front of him, but like a magician, he can pull out a receipt for a box of nails from 2017.

Sure enough, just as Mom Mom predicted, a black and blue plaid swatch appeared in the mix, matching the trendy jacket at the mall.

“Good start. Keep digging”, she said. “See what else we can find.”

In no time, she customized that nondescript coat into a work-of-art with a single elbow patch and checkered flannel on the collar, cuffs, and pocket. For a final touch, she added a flowery patch cross-stitched in yellow on the back.

“Can you make it fade?” I asked.

Making new clothes old was a foreign concept to her. She paused for a moment as she held the jacket up for inspection.

“Time will take care of that.”

Dementia took her mind many years before her death in 2003. I find her obituary online. Only a few sentences describe her life. One, in particular, gives me the chills. “She operated her private business for many years as an invisible weaver.”

Mom Mom stitched that leftover patch on an angle, almost like her signature. It’s reminiscent of the sixties with the word “Love” embroidered in big purple letters. She chose yellow thread to stand out from the patch and the jacket, and with her overlapping cross-stitch, it’s not going anywhere anytime soon.

Somebody told me that mufflers are designed to rust out the day after the warranty expires. We live in a throw-away society. Mom Mom’s generation valued their time and their ability. They made things to last. And last this jacket has. It looks as old as the brand-new one next to it.

Later in college, when I served in the NROTC program, I added a small American flag next to a peace sign I designed on my own. I wore my heart on my sleeve at the Great Peace March in Washington. I think I was the only one there with a crew cut.

I could see both sides. So could my grandmother.

Plaid collar, faded elbow patch, and Love signature. Source: the author.

I go back to that sunset picture on Facebook. One daughter is named after her. The other inherited her Italian complexion.

I don’t recall adding much weight since high school, but the jacket fits much tighter now. It looks better on the girls. They take turns wearing it.

Mom Mom may not have known that her talent would bridge my childhood to my daughters, a way for her to somehow touch her great-grands. But it did and still does. The invisible weaver has an invisible touch.

It’s the small things that last when patched on with a little love.

Time has taken care of the jacket as she predicted it would. It’s done the same to me. By the way, I still think the lighting is off in the picture. My hair can’t be that gray.

You can see more of my stories by clicking here.

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Paul Dorsey
Age of Empathy

When not working as a Financial Advisor, Paul writes about everyday people.