A DIY Ode To Crafty Moms Everywhere

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When my dad died, one of the hardest parts of the grieving process was going through his personal belongings and trying to determine what would stay and what would go. Finding his speech from my wedding in his coat pocket? An incredible treasure. And, obviously so. But, when my mom decided to keep every single shirt in his closet, both weekend and work, I couldn't initially understand it. But, at my baby shower for my first child, I realized why.

For every grandchild, she was creating a quilt from these shirts — meaning that every night, my son and daughter, who never got to meet their grandfather, could be wrapped up in a metaphorical embrace by him.

quiltPhoto: Courtesy of Kelly Kasouf.


Running my fingers over each shirt strip of the quilt brings me back to a moment in my childhood when my dad was wearing said shirts. Being a total clothes horse, (I inherited that from him,) he loved his Ralph Lauren Purple Label, Thomas Pink, and Charvet shirts for the days he spent running the media world in the 80s and 90s heyday of publishing at Conde Nast. And, for the weekends, he relied on buffalo checks and Brooks Brothers polos for BBQs and sailing in Oyster Bay —in those moments, he was truly in his true element, a family man.

The juxtaposition of these different shirts representing the different pieces of his life, meticulously stitched together, tells the story that Mom wanted us to remember about him. And that just blows me away. It's such a thoughtful gift, and the love that comes bubbles to the surface every time I see it.

Now that I, too, am a mom, the love is obviously there, but can I replicate my mom's craftiness for my own kids? I'd certainly like to try, but it's daunting.

My Viking mom is cut from a different cloth than the women you meet today. Sure, I acquired some creative skills from her — after all, I was a Printmaking and Sculpture major in college, and spent part of my career event planning at Vogue, and then later, designing and producing children’s books — but it's not the same. Starting as an adult, how will I ever master the skills that she started learning at 6 years old?

tagPhoto: Courtesy of Kelly Kasouf.
The muscles in her hands are like mini juiced-up body builders that work at lightning speed without ever dropping stitch. The constant hum of the sewing machine was the soundtrack to my childhood. She didn’t just make clothes for her kids, but for every kid entering the world — for friends of friends of friends and so on. And, that means that the most important label we have in our house now is emblazoned with her name (sorry Ralph).

Every Halloween costume I wore? Custom. Every hem or alteration? Done at home. Grandmare, as many know her, is from the Crafty Generation. The generation of moms I joined when my son was born, on the other hand, is full of multi-taskers, focused on getting the job done and moving on. And, while I love (and am) a multi-tasking woman, I admire my mom's generation for relishing in and perfecting their projects. That's not to say we don't have our incredible women like Erica Domasek of PS, I Made This fame, and various Etsy superstars, all killing it in the craft arena. But, it's not a way of life anymore.

So, I'm going back to the basics to learn the skills that aren't as essential to our generation — but are still pretty darn valuable.

I'm going to step up my mom game and take a crash course in crafty. For the past week, I had Grandmare teach me everything: how to hem a pant, how to construct a garment, and how to knit a hat. Maybe her craftiness will rub off on me and I will create loving objects to gift my children — but even if not, I'll at least have something more meaningful to do during my son’s Tai Kwon Do classes than troll The Outnet.
hatPhoto: Courtesy of Kelly Kasouf.
The Project: A Hat
Knitting is like an analog version of the Lumosity app. The crafting can help strengthen your cognitive memory, prevent cerebral atrophy, and significantly delay dementia — all thanks to the constant counting and pattern-work. But, for my mom, who found solace in the craft when Dad died, it’s an opportunity to clear her mind and have moments of peace and creativity to herself.

It's basically a series of dropped loops on a long needle, and the pattern takes shape based on the number of stitches. There are two stitches: a knit and a purl. If you can perfect these simple moves, you can literally make anything.

Grandmare likes to frequent websites like Vogue Knitting to start. There, she looks for super basic patterns to follow and deviate from in order to create whatever she chooses, with her wool of choice: merino wool and cashmere. Her pieces aren’t cheap to make because she only uses the best wool. But, they feel lush and amazing. Bergdorfs would be proud.

The Result: Grandmare wouldn’t let me take any shortcuts. She made me pull out the project twice because of the random holes from skipped stitches. The final product was twice the size promised by the pattern, and would easily fit a much fuller mane than the one on genetically hair-deprived husband's head (I love you so much, Dave!)
overallsPhoto: Courtesy of McCalls.
The Project: An Oompa Loompa Costume (Basic Overalls)
After making the hat, I think my mom felt pity on me. So, next, we worked with the simplest form of garment construction, with felt and a glue gun instead of a sewing machine and fabric.

Again we hit up websites like McCalls for incredibly simple patterns. Grandmare looks at sewing like I do cooking — as a completely improvisational activity. She adds and edits as she works, whereas I was fearful of straying from the pattern's instructions, fearful of the unknown territory I was treading in.

We laid the pattern on the fabric, cut around it, hot-glue-gunned along the edges, and added design details after the construction was created. Easy peasy, right?

The Result: I am terrible at measuring. I needed a crash course in using the ruler and in cutting fabric accurately. How sad. “Measure twice, cut once” still rings in my head, and I definitely needed to redo a slew of steps because I rushed and was not accurate with my measurements. I also realized I need to slow down and appreciate each step, instead of just the final product. I think my kids would have pity on me if I asked them to wear the costume I made. Bless their hearts.
hm-pantsPhoto: Courtesy of H&M.
The Project: Hemming Pants
This was the most satisfying skill I learned. I felt like a superhero for fixing the hem and actually wearing pants that would have probably sat in my closet until I remembered to head to the cleaners and pay a silly amount for a ten-minute job. Knowing how to hem officially makes me Supermom! Bring on the uniform skirts and palazzo pants. Hell. Yes.

There are two ways to hem, with a sewing machine or by hand. We opted to do this old school and hemmed by hand. Here's what you need to know:

1. Put on the super-long pants and turn up the hem to determine your finished length.
2. Measure how much needs to be hemmed. There is usually an already existing hem — keep note of where this is.
3. With a measuring tape, calculate the length of the entire hem.
4. Take off pants and turn them inside out.
5. Turn up required hem edge and cut off the existing hem/edge.
Time Saver: Use iron-on binding and iron onto the cut edge, then stitch hem all the way around using long and tiny stitches so they don’t show through finished side.
6. Turn pants right side out and iron.

The Ultimate Takeaway:
I have no patience and am a terrible student. I felt like I was back at Sunday school, with my mom teaching the class. I was forever clowning around, but her expert way of redirecting me back to the project at hand was impressive, to say the least. The products really didn’t take much time — so, I think, with a lot of practice, I too will be able to master the patterns and then improvise, to create finished products that truly represent the love they're made with.

This is dedicated to my Viking mom, Mariann Florio. Happy Mother’s Day, Grandmare, you are the best teacher a terrible student could ever have. And PS, there is no way Steven can top a gift like this!