Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Guest Blogger DANA LARDNER: Back Where You Belong

Idle Hands
I am one of those people who has to keep her hands busy. In my head, I am constantly thinking about what I will make next while my hands are busy sewing, making jewelry, or experimenting with unknown mediums. I love the textures and colors and shapes of natural stones, the soft hand of natural fibers.
What I love even more is the final product that is then passed on to someone who will use the whatever I made with a gleeful smile and the knowledge that it came from my effort and my hands.
Sleep Away Camp With A Safety Net
When I was seven years old, I spent the Summer with my maternal grandmother in a suburb outside of Chicago. From June until August, I was 2000 miles away from my parents and younger sibling. It was just the two of us alone in her beautiful, bigger-than-mine house.
While I was there, I attended a day camp where a bus picked me up and dropped me off. It was “sleep away” camp but with a safety net. I wasn’t homesick, though, because my grandmother’s house was my haven. Each room held a treasure to unearth and an accompanying story for Grandma to share in her signature style.
When she tucked me into bed I would say, “I love you Grandma.”
And she would reply, “And I adore you.”
Dinner Is Served
Dinner at Grandma’s house involved table settings and candlelight. While Grandma cooked, I was responsible for setting the table with the appropriate place mats and any silverware necessary for that evening’s meal.
The bevy of brass candlesticks on the dining room table held light green, tapered candles.  I was fascinated with her brass snuffer. It would swing back and forth on its pivot joint only stopping if you held your hand still. I quickly learned to be ever so careful and come straight down on the bright flame as I put the candles out.

When Grandma didn’t cook dinner, we would walk into town so I could get takeout from my favorite fried chicken place or eat sit down dinner at her favorite Chinese restaurant.
As we walked home hand in hand I would tell her, “I love you Grandma.”
And she would reply, “And I adore you.”
Bridging The Stone Gap
Grandma had the good fortune of living next door to one of her best friends. There was a gap in the wood fence where a stone path was constructed to go back and forth to each home easily. Even still, they would talk over the small fence instead of bridging the stone gap. As though walking that small distance would just take time away from the all the day’s tales they had to tell.
This neighbor was an extension of my grandmother. Her home was another safe place for me to explore; another place to feel welcomed with arms that enveloped me into long, tight hugs.
Her neighbor worked full time as a costume designer for local theater companies. As busy as she was, she always made time to have me over for lunch. As she prepared our food, I would watch Caspar The Friendly Ghost on a small, old black and white television in her kitchen. While we ate, she would ask me about my days at camp and the friends I had made.
After lunch we would head upstairs to her office filled with half-made costumes and fabrics yet to be cut. I was in awe of her multi-level sewing kit that would collapse into an easy-to-carry case. Contained within it were beads and sequins and needles and thread, all ready to be woven into a story she had yet to tell.
Back Where You Belong
On a whim, my grandmother’s neighbor decided to teach me “Hello Dolly” in its entirety. She handed me a feather boa as a prop and had me practice the song in her family room.
“Hello, Dolly…well hello, Dolly. It’s so nice to have you back where you belong.”
After mastering the tune, I graduated to a performance in my grandmother’s living room. The sturdy, rectangular radiator cover was my small stage. I paced back and forth belting out the lyrics and only stopping for dramatic effect.
“You’re looking swell, Dolly. I can tell, Dolly!”
I received a standing ovation and was asked for an encore.
When she hugged me tight after I sang my heart out, I would say, “I love you Grandma.”
And she would reply, “And I adore you.”
On Pins And Needles
My grandmother’s neighbor may have been the professional costume designer, but my grandmother, too, was an experienced maker with a room dedicated to making things with her hands. She created beautiful quilted bed covers, knitted scarves, and made clothing from patterns.
Her sewing room was a magical place. It was almost like going through the looking glass, never sure what you’ll find once you enter. There were straight pins tucked away in the shag carpet and yellow tape measures next to about-to-start-it projects strewn about the room.
That Summer she taught me how to cast on to medium-sized needles, and how to tell the difference between the knit and purl stitches. I never made it past making small practice squares, but her knitting basics were enough that I could pick up knitting again many years later.
I didn’t realize how many of the beautiful things that were a part of my daily life had been made by her hands until I was much older and she was already gone. I pieced it all together when I sat in front of a sewing machine for the first time 12 years ago. My first project was a t-shirt quilt. It was simple, straight line sewing,but a triumph nonetheless.
I showed the quilt to my mother and she said, “You are channeling your grandmother,” and I beamed.
When I sit down to sew, I say, “I love you Grandma.”
And I can still hear her voice, as clear as day, “And I adore you.”

Dana Lardner is the founder of Goods Giving Back, which enables skilled makers to support nonprofits they love at the time of sale.  The makers of these handcrafted items generously donate at least 50% of the proceeds of each sale to the charity of their choice.  If you are a maker and are interested in contributing click here to learn more.


  1. That is such a sweet story. It's great that you had such a wonderful grandma.

    1. Thank you for reading. Yes, I feel very fortunate to have had her in my life.

  2. So sweet. Grandma's are awesome!

    1. Thank you. Yes, a grandmother like her is a gift.