27 Years in the Making

I don’t know exactly why my mother abandoned the project. What I do know is that the copyright date on the instructions, 1982, is sandwiched between the years Mom had her third and fourth babies. I’m thinking there was an awful lot of life going on around her when Mom ordered those fabric photo frames she saw in her Women’s Day magazine.

I also know that sometime around 2006, Mom decided that if she hadn’t finished the craft in the last twenty-some years, she probably wasn’t going to find sudden motivation. Yet she was still attached enough to the project that she couldn’t bring herself to toss it in the trash. This is how it came to be sitting in my closet instead of hers.

When I first tucked it back on that shelf, I didn’t have any specific plans on getting it out again. It certainly didn’t feel like there was any reason to hurry. But a few months later I started thinking about Christmas. It occurred to me that here was a present that Mom had already chosen for herself, albeit many years ago, so maybe she would enjoy it. I pulled everything out of the kit and got my first look at the yellowed instructions.

Thanks to a very crafty aunt who taught me to cross-stitch while Mom was in the hospital with those babies I mentioned earlier, I am not completely useless in this area. I thought these frames just might fall within my skill set. I read that in addition to the supplied items, I would need only craft glue and some sort of clamps. Mom had already cut the fabric to the appropriate sizes. This was step one. Then I discovered that step two needed an iron and step five needed a sewing machine. While I did own these items, the iron hadn’t been used since my sister needed to make iron-on T-shirts for vacation Bible school the previous summer and the sewing machine was stored in a box… somewhere. It was disconcerting that these directions seemed to be intended for someone who had them readily available. They hadn’t even been mentioned in the also need section. What else was it assumed I knew?

I didn’t get much further than a read-through of the instructions before the whole kit went back into the closet. But I kept thinking about it, kept hoping I would find the time to finish it before Christmas. About a week before the holiday, I gave up and bought Mom something else. I hoped things would settle down in a year or two and I could give it another go. The fact that this was probably similar to what Mom thought the first time the kit went into a closet did not escape me.

Then I had twins. It would seem that this sort of chaos might be exactly the sort of thing to push any side projects back several more years. But it was precisely because life seemed so crazy that I started thinking about that old craft project. The babies got my attention whenever they demanded it and my oldest child was in school all day. I didn’t want my three-year-old to get lost in the shuffle. I wanted something for just the two of us.

One day while the babies were napping, I pulled the kit off the shelf and showed it to my preschooler. We sorted out all the pieces and smoothed out those instructions. Right away I saw a potential problem. On the one hand, I still liked the idea of making this a present for Mom. On the other hand, I wanted to actually let my daughter help. These were competing impulses. I wanted to let her squeeze the glue. I didn’t want to clean glue globs off the front of the frames. I wanted to let her choose the thread. I didn’t want to have to hide anything bright orange.

The project took several days of the babies’ nap times. By the last day, my little one had become more interested in creating a “craft” of her own by pulling a few colors of thread off the spools and onto the pincushion. I confess I was glad to have this break from her help, right up until I tried to untangle the mess.

Her attention was piqued again when it was time to choose the pictures for our completed frames. This was a step she had been asking about since we were still cutting batting and it was a step about which I felt a great deal of pressure. I had doubts about being able to get the pictures out again so whatever we added could be permanent. There was also some tricky math involved in the selection. The frames provided seven openings of different sizes and Mom has nine grandchildren.

Even with spectacularly cute pictures, I don’t know if Mom will love this gift. The frames have enough imperfections that I’m not sure they can all qualify as “character.” And Mom’s house has undergone 27 years of redecorating since she picked them out. Can these fabric frames be passed off as retro or are they simply dated? Still, three generations of women worked on this project and I believe that is worth something. I suspect if I present the finished product to the first generation in the presence of the third, it will get a satisfying reaction. They may end up back in a closet somewhere, but perhaps my daughter will be interested in actually hanging pictures in her house in another twenty years.

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