The Grandmother Project

Posted by Brette in Collecting | Crafts | Home and Decorating | Life

As some of you might recall, my 99 year old grandmother passed away at the beginning of May. I was very close to her and although her passing was not unexpected given her age, it was still hard.

My grandmother was a collector, but a selective and tasteful collector. In the past month or so I have been involved in sorting through her belongings and dividing them up. My grandmother had 2 children, 2 grandchildren and 4 great grandchildren, so it’s not a huge family. She had a LOT of things (almost 100 years worth of belongings) and so everyone is bringing home a lot.

blueglass2Since Martha is a collector, I have been greatly influenced by her as I’ve gone through this process. I’ve inherited some beautiful Depression glass (and some much older) and have been relying on Martha’s principles when it comes to displaying it. The first thing I had to do was be selective. I ended up with boxes and boxes of glass, so I’ve chosen to display only those that are sets, similar in some way or which create pretty color combinations in ways I imagine Martha might do. I put away some amber colored pieces to display with my fall decorations. I would love to some day install some lit glass shelves to better display all of the items.

I’ve also hauled home boxes of very old household items – stoneware crocks, some interesting cake pans that have a bar that you spin to get the cake to come out, and an old hand held egg beater. I also have a set of round wooden crates that are called dry measure crates. My great grandfather used them at the market where he sold produce – they have his last name and initials on them. I also brought home a very old two-handled hinged picnic basket which unfortunately was painted yellow at some point. I may end up repainting it another color (tips on that are welcome!). In my mind’s eye I can just see Martha doing a segment on things like these. Each piece is unusual and beautiful.

buttonsI’ve got a big tin of old buttons as well. I haven’t gone through it yet, but I’m thinking there must be a Martha craft that involves buttons I could do. Any suggestions?

My grandmother had lots and lots of costume jewelry, some of it so gaudy it iscostume jewelry beautiful. I once heard Barbara Walters say she wears her mother’s old costume jewelry brooches and people think they are real and I might use some of the brooches in that way. Mostly, I was unable to imagine it all going to charity. I don’t quite know what to do with the many beaded necklaces and clip earrings though. Any suggestions are welcome for this as well!

Then there is the furniture. I brought home two end tables which desperately need refinishing. I know Martha would enthusiastically pop some gloves on and get to work, but I’m afraid to ruin them, so they will have to wait until we can pay someone to do it.

I also brought home two lamps which I am not sure what to do with. Neither one quite fits the style of my house. One is a reconditioned oil lamp and the other is milk glass. I couldn’t walk away from those either.

I am now the proud owner of many doilies and dresser scarves. I have no idea doilieswhat to do with them. Displaying them on tables is not my style. I am thinking some might be beautiful framed (another Martha inspired idea). We think my grandmother may have made some of them – unfortunately there is no way to know. I also now own two pretty aprons – again, I have no idea what to do with them.

I’ve discovered that my grandmother kept every note, card or postcard I ever wrote for her. Going through those brought back many memories.  She also had many mementoes from her travels. My grandparents traveled to every continent, except Antartica, and brought home many interesting items.  I have the world map that shows all of their trips (and am trying to figure out where to put that!).

One thing she collected on trips was dolls. I inherited the entire collection which looks like a little United Nations  – each doll in native dress. Many are in need of repair, so I’m going to have to find a doll hospital. Then I will need to determine how to display them (and where!).

One thing I have learned from all of this is that I need to take the time to document the things I own that are meaningful to me. A friend suggested I take photos and paste them into a Word doc and write a brief description. That way my children (or hopefully grandchildren) will know what it all is, where it came from and why I cared about it. So many of my grandmother’s things are beautiful and interesting, but no one knows where they came from.

As I work through the boxes of things and find ways to use them that are Martha-inspired I will post them.

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10 Responses

  • What a nice story. Love the idea of documenting special things! You might want to do a bit of research before you start hot gluing your old buttons, though. A local button collector might help you to know what ones are worth keeping in good condition.

  • Thanks. That’s a good idea. I was thinking maybe I would sew them onto a piece of poster board and frame them, so they won’t be damaged, unless Martha has any other great ideas. Buttons seem sort of a country style decor to me and my house isn’t, so I want to find a way to display them in a way that makes them feel like art. I’ve got to dump the tin out and go through them and see what’s really in there.

    It’s a bit overwhelming – there are so many things I could pay to have valued, restored, repaired, refinished that I could go broke if I did it all! Antiques Roadshow, please come to my house!

  • Brigitte says:

    The class is beautiful! I love the color and the design. Framing the doilies is a great way to show them.

  • This is really fascinating. One way you might use some of the buttons is to glue them onto the frame of a mirror. My son’s preschool class did this, and it looked like a modern art piece when it was done.

    For the costume jewelry, you might consider a vintage or consignment store. My friend’s vintage store carries some.

  • That’s a great idea. I made a mosaic around a mirror a few years ago and love how that looks. I sorted through the buttons yesterday. Some are glass!

    The family rule is “if you don’t want it, give it back” so I won’t be reselling anything I got, lest I be cast into the wilderness by my mother. Some of the pins are really nice. I will put up a post at some point with a separate photo of those.

    I found a tiny little thimble I think must be meant for a child. My mom discovered a thing that looks like a small maraca (as in the things you shake that make noise) but it is a tool for darning socks.

    I am getting her dining room set and once that is here, I will be able to arrange and display the glass much more artfully.

  • an idea about the costume jewelry — are there theater companies in your area (college, professional, community…)? They might put the jewelry to good use if you’re willing to part with it.

    the stoneware crocks and the wooden crates are what intrigue me most.

    this post is a lovely memoir of your grandmother, Brette, and I hear the seeds of more stories to come within it, too.

  • Thanks Kerry. That’s a good idea about the jewelry, but my mom would shoot me if I gave it away. “If you don’t want it, give it back” is the mantra. I think it’s really pretty, but am having a hard time knowing what to do with it. I did wear one of the necklaces last night. It is long and silver with silver beads and fake pearls. It actually looked really nice. Of course most of the other stuff is much gaudier.

    Last night my daughter and I were commenting on some pretty barrettes some girls were wearing at my son’s 5th grade promotion and I said to her that if I had some of the big gaudy clip earrings made into barrettes, maybe we could wear them that way. I am also thinking they might make interesting Christmas tree ornaments.

    You’re right – I will likely have more posts about this in the future! I love hearing everyone’s ideas.

  • Sherena Smith says:

    I just found your website a few days ago and have been reading through the posts you have made over the last month or so going through the treasures from your grandmother. It is very reminiscent of the times my family has spent going through boxes and boxes of items when one of my grandfather’s several sisters passed away. It also reminded me of when my mom and I were trying to figure out away to display my grandma’s brooch collection which had just been sitting in the cigar boxes she stored them in since her passing.

    My mom and I have made several costume jewelry Christmas Trees. I have not been able to find any pictures I have taken of them, but will have my mom take a couple and will email you the examples. If you have several nice brooches you can take picture frames and remove the glass. Pad the cardboard back and cover it with your choice of fabric and them put the wood frame back on and hang it. You can then slide the brooches through the fabric and display on a wall. My mom has hers in the bedroom.

    I am enjoying your journey through your grandmothers treasures and look forward to seeing what else you come up with!

  • I love the idea of a costume jewelry Christmas tree!!

    And the picture frame suggestion is a good one – I took the charms from my childhood charm bracelet and displayed them this way.

  • Levy says:

    Take them apart and make new stuff with the beads that’s what I do