In Praise of Mothers

Field Notes: Kaffe Fassett

To the women who inspired us, and taught us to sew

I’ve always felt proud of my mother for her vision. When my family moved to Big Sur in northern California in the 1940s she created an amazing restaurant and shop in Bobcat Country, up a single winding road with no electricity. Recently, I experienced the shock of seeing my mother, Lolly, through the eyes of my niece, Nani Steele, with the publication of a memoir of the family business.

I was raised in the country and it fell to my mother to inspire us, her five children, to use our time well. When not cutting wood, filling kerosene lampsand scraping candle wax from most surfaces, we were encouraged to paint, to make things like puppets, or knit, or sew clothes. I didn’t actually get into knitting then, but it fascinated me that a long piece of yarn could be made into so many useful shapes. Mom knitted huge ponchos when they were fashionable the first time, in the 1970s. Seeing my mother as a young woman in Nani’s My Nepenthe (Andrews McMeel Publishing), how she took in and inspired many lost souls in her lifetime brought me to tears. She organized big sewing rooms, tapping the creativity of others to make things for our family shop.

Inspired to Sew

I see the ways she inspired me as well. In the early 90s I was on television and I asked the viewers to send me little needlepoint pictures for a large needlepoint piece I was making about Britain called “Count Your Blessings,” launched on the BBC television. One woman sent a picture of her Gran with an inscription: “To my grandmother who taught me to sew.” Seeing those words stitched in letters alongside an image of a little woman in a coat and handbag really moved me. With so many of you working mothers in this generation, I do hope you find time to teach basic sewing skills to your kids. I can think of no more useful thing to do for somebody than to offer them the tools and skills that could unlock their creativity and make them happy to be in their own company.

As I sit reading about my own childhood and my amazing mother I’m reminded of all she accomplished. I’m thankful for the way she got me to read, to appreciate art and beauty around me, and to use my hands. I feel a big wave of gratitude to my niece for honoring my mother and our family legacy in such a gorgeously illustrated book.

Kaffe Fassett