Dishtowel Thinking

comments: 122

Calicostack I worked on the dishtowels all weekend and finished the embroidery part last night. I couldn't resist getting a bunch of new little 1/2 yards of fabric as I tried to pick something for the binding. I'll work on the binding edges tonight and hopefully finish many of them to show you tomorrow, and have the pattern, at least, available by the weekend. I'm very pleased with these.

I thought about my grandma a whole lot while I was doing these towels. For some reason they just reminded me of her and her kitchen so much, even though the items I pictured are things from mine. My grandparents bought their first house when they were in their seventies; previous to that they owned several apartment buildings on the west side of Chicago and in Oak Park, the last being at 209 S. Oak Park Avenue, on the corner of Pleasant Street across from St. Edmund Church and school. I lived in this building until I was three, when in 1972 my parents bought our house in River Forest, but my grandparents continued to own "the building" for many years afterwards, living there as landlords. We girls spent a lot of time with them. They moved to their little ranch house in River Forest, just across the park from our house, sometime in the early '80s, I think. We lived a block west but on the other side of a tall railroad trestle that bordered both our street on the east and theirs on the west, and so their back yard led onto the wooded hill that lofted those tracks about twenty feet above the houses. It ran along the length of our streets, and across the town, headed northwest to Minnesota and beyond. That was the Soo Line, and the sound of its locomotives and freight cars rolling along the tracks across from our house was a constant companion of my childhood, and I think my love of trains developed there. I miss the sound of that steady, soulful thing, especially at night, so much. Our neighborhood was an urban place, yet so sleepy and wooded because of the tracks, and the park, and that's what I always loved about living in River Forest, and still miss. I think living in the house was very quiet for my grandparents, compared to when they owned the building, in the middle of businesses and restaurants near the El tracks and the intersections, and had dozens of tenants to attend to. They were city people. I wonder if they liked that River Forest quiet. I don't know. I think they were probably lonely there.

My grandma wore what she called "housedresses" every day, and those were made of calicos of the kind that I feel nostalgic and even very emotional about now — tiny prints on dark backgrounds, usually navy or black. She made all the dresses herself, and they were very simple A-line dress without linings or facings, just trimmed in contrast-colored bias tape, with two big patch pockets on the front and probably a keyhole neckline that tied in the back with long ends of bias tape. My sissy and I were on the phone yesterday talking about fabric, and grandma's dresses, and where they were (all gone now). My mom was here over the weekend and I showed her the dishtowels and the fabric I had chosen for the trim and she immediately exclaimed, "That's so grandma!" without me even telling her what I was going for, so I felt I'd gotten it right.

When I think of my grandparents' little kitchen, I think about afternoons, and their table, covered in oilcloth, where my grandpa sat and peeled a yellow apple with a paring knife every single day. I think about the ridged, rectangular coconut cookies they bought every week from Dominick's. I think about this aqua blue plastic holder that they always had for their 1/2 gallon milk container, to make it easier to pour. I think about how disappointed my grandma was that her stove in the house was electric, and she never really got over that. As I write this, I suddenly realize that I've talked about it before. The images bubble up, usually the same, some absent, some new, but so . . . few, and always fraught with longing. Sometimes I feel like I could just sit and write about my grandma all day, even what little I know. When I buy little pieces of fabric, I feel closer to her. Those fabrics feel like home when home is gone.


Ah, aren't grandmas the best. This description reminds me of my great-grandma. She always wore a little housedress and spent her days cooking fresh pasta and biscotti on her old-fashioned gas oven. My great-grandpa made his own wine and kept it in big jugs that would sit on the floor during lunch. He'd pick it up and refill empty glasses. Sometimes I came over to visit and she would want to make margaritas, her favorite drink!

After she died my mom kept one of her aprons that hangs from a hook in her kitchen. Thanks for the trigger to memory lane. :-)

Lovely post. My granny wears the same clothing- you described her to a t! She only wears store bought clothing others give her...She is 87 and I adore her. She sews and I regret so much all the times she tried to teach me...I am learning now at 34! :) The post really touched me xo

I could sit here and read your writing about your grandmother all day long..Soo Lovely..And I Can.Not.Wait. to see these dishtowels!!

Beautifully written. It reminded me of going over to my grandma's house to visit, so many great memories. And also of my great aunt's kitchen. We didn't visit my great aunt & uncle that much, but I remember going with my dad and sitting at her yellow table, eating the cakes she whipped up. The yellow table is in my craft room now and it always makes me think of Aunt Dorothy.

Am so excited to see the dishtowels!


My grandma STILL lives on S. Oak Park Avenue, about 2 blocks from that address!

What beautiful memories you have.

Thank you so much for sharing this. You are such a wonderful writer -- I love to read these tales of your childhood. Lovely, lovely images.

Ooooooh, I was thinking about my Grandmas yesterday and did a papercutting of the two of us in her garden. Please take a look!

Ooooooh, I was thinking about my Grandmas yesterday and did a papercutting of the two of us in her garden. Please take a look!

There is something magical about relationships with grandmothers. My mother's mother inhabits my memory even though I only knew her when I was a small child. My memories are silent, like an old film, but rich in color. Her life was very different from mine, much harder in so many ways, yet there are so many things about the way she lived her life--the cooking, gardening, sewing, caring for her family and community, and the everyday kindness and the generosity of her time--that all resonant with me as special gifts that no amount of money could buy.

Grandma's are the best. I am thankful mine is still with me and lives just a few minutes away. Those prints remind me of my Gramms as well. Feel free to talk about to Grandma all you want to...I could read all day about it! :) Thank you for sharing such wonderful memories with us.

Whoops, meant to say talk about your grandma, not to. And can't wait to see more about the dishtowels! :)

First, I'm excited to see the dishtowels.

Second, howdy from Oak Park! :)

Speaking of grandmas -- do you know that Andy's grandma (Helen) loved to smock? And today is Grandpa Tommy's 85th birthday!

Arlette Ebisu says: February 06, 2008 at 09:54 AM

Thanks for sharing memories of your grandma with us. After reading yours, thoughts of my paternal grandparents started rolling in. We visited them every Sunday like clockwork. My grandpa would take the grandkids into the mudroom where he had bananas just waiting to be given to us. Then he'd pull from his pockets Reeds Rootbeer candy and would give each of us a roll. It sure made us feel special. Then my grandmother would take us to her bedroom, open up her lingerie draw and reach under all of those homeade pantaloons and give each of us a roll of Choward's Violet candy. I can smell that fragrant candy right now. This was a routine that went on until their passings. My grandmother loved sewing and she was always making something. She too, wore similar house dresses as your grandma. Thanks for the memories, Alicia!

"Sometimes I feel like I could just sit and write about my grandma all day."

And why shouldn't you? Thanks for making me smile.

We must have had the same grandma, Alicia. I have 5 dishtowels she embroidered for me. I used them (and always ironed them after washing them) until one got a hole in it. That's when I realized I'd better wash and iron them one last time and put them away for safekeeping.
I just noticed dear Clover peeking out on the left side bar. I think that I'll ask to see new pictures of Clover at least weekly. Could something like that happen? I could be so happy if it did.

My grandparents in Minnesota had a blue milk container holder too! Hadn't thought about that in a while, I miss them both. Thanks for the post.

What a lovely post and thank you for writing about your grandma and triggering so many memories of my own grandmothers so that they will be with me today as I go about my day.

My grandma was much the same. She wore a housedress every day (with beige orthopedic shoes) and couldn't understand why my mother didn't want to do the same. She knit us mittens every year out of this beige wool yarn that I can only imagine she found in some bargain bin at St. Vincent de Paul (she worked there and once brought me previously worn underwear...because they were still in good shape) because the only color mittens we ever got, year after year, was those beige wool ones. She quilted like a fiend, loved to garden in the little bare spot outside her apartment and canned fruit well into her 90's. She didn't come to my wedding because she wasn't well anymore and the only regret I have with regard to her is that I didn't make the one hour drive to her nursing home on my wedding day so she could see me in my dress. Thanks for making me think of her again!

What a sweet and wonderful post. Thank you so much for sharing it. My grandma always wore an apron when she was home which by the way was always spic and span and she would wear my grandpa's socks and roll them down like doughnuts around her ankles. Thanks for letting me go back in time with my thoughts. It made me smile :)


I have such great memories of my grandma. She was a war bride and could make anything out of anything. She would walk into a department store and just stare at the colours. She made most of her clothes and the clothes of everyone else she knew. I remember making dollclothes with her as a little girl at her dining room table. She never got to meet my daughter and it makes me sad. How I wish that my little girl could have sat with her and enjoyed the fresh baked rolls and chats. She has two wonderful grandmothers, but I secretly think my grandma was the very best.

Oh my! Did you just hit a major spot. My soon to be Grandpa worked the "Soo Line" for much of my childhood. It also ran by their house on Polk St. in Minneapolis MN. Small world.

I go to school at Dominican University, and I love hearing that train! I have also grown up around trains and so it is a comfort to hear that one when I'm in bed. I love River Forest and your descriptions of it.

Elizabeth Mackey says: February 06, 2008 at 10:41 AM

What sweet memories! I didn't have my grandmother around much and have very little memories of time shared with her, I had always hoped that my children would have good memories of their grandmothers,but alas no. On the up side, I will be one of those doting grandmothers that cooks and does crafts with their grandchildren,and tries to spend as much time as possible with them,so that they will have good memories like you do of your grandmother.
Were did you get the patterns for the dish cloths???

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at