I think there’s a certain aspect of romance to old family photographs. I don’t mean the old family photos at Chuck E. Cheese birthday parties in the 80s. I’m talking about those black and white photos of our maiden mothers, our newlywed grandmothers, or our handsome great uncles in some sort of distinguished uniform.
It’s silly of us to forget that once upon a time, our parents and our elders blossomed in youth. They too were young, strong, agile, hard working, struggled through difficult challenges, overcame those challenges, have had their hearts broken and have fallen madly in love.
A couple of weeks ago, I came across this old photograph of my grandmother knitting in a garden.
It was my first time ever seeing this photo. I’ve certainly seen old photographs of her before, but never this one. Somehow this photograph meant a lot to me. Not only does she look beautiful, but in this photo I truly see how much she resembles my Mother (rather, how much my Mother resembles her). In addition to the striking beauty resemblance, I loved this photo because of two other reasons.
The first attraction was just the idea of my grandmother in her early 20s. There she was, sitting gracefully in a sunny village garden in the 1940s. In her summer dress and her hair curled back, she looks down in concentration. That vision alone made me stare at this photo a handful of times, each time mesmerized.
The other thing that attracted me was the captured act of her knitting. Growing up, my grandmother was a master of arts & crafts. She always made something. She knitted us sweaters and scarves, she crocheted, she did needlework wall art, she made half of our Christmas ornaments, she sewed and hemmed everything for us, and she even made jewelry. Until of course she was no longer able to use her hands as strongly as she once used to.
The funny thing is, growing up, I thought that’s just what grandmothers did. I mean, didn’t everyone’s grandmother knit them sweaters and crocheted a table runner? Yet this photograph reminded me that my grandma’s frequent handiwork was less of a generalization, and more of a personal trait uniquely to her.
It reminded me that creating something with her hands was something she always loved doing. This photograph is “her”, and it represents her talent and creativity, and I’m so happy that the origin of that talent and creativity was preserved in this photograph.
In a strange unrelated way, this photograph also explained a lot of about myself. I’ve been told that I get my knack for creating and decorating from my Mother’s side, and now I know for a fact now that this is true. I guess you could say, we share a “DIY DNA”.
This treasured photograph of her inspired the perfect gift idea for her 90th Birthday. This photo was too special for me to store away, so I knew I wanted to frame it and gift it to her on such an important milestone. I also knew my gift was going to be something that I would make with my own hands, as an homage to the decades of her creative handiwork that she has done for us.
I picked up a simple flat wooden picture frame, I painted it ivory and sanded it when it was dry for a distressed look. I then glued a crochet lace ribbon along the edges.
As the finishing touch, I embellished the frame with yellow paper flowers on the top, and on the bottom I added these adorable sewing charms that I found at Michaels.
On a whim, I decided to make a necklace using the remaining charm as the pendant. I thought this mini dressmaker mannequin was too adorable, and it fit the sewing/knitting theme perfectly.
I added a tiny rose charm that I had laying around in my jewelry box to the necklace, because I thought it added a fitting vintage femininity to it. I wrapped it up and placed it between pink craft roses tucked in a small box.
Handmade Birthday Card
I wanted something bright for her birthday card. My grandma loves peachy-pink colours, so I used coral and floral scrapbook paper as the cover and interior lining. For the front cover, I used a medley of small paper flowers to create the number “90”. That was an easy inspiration from a previous DIY project I did with floral letters.
On the inside of the card, I included another old photograph of her, and I hand-wrote a French poem that she always used to recite to us grandkids on our birthdays. I thought this was the perfect way to re-create everything she’s done for us, and to offer it back to her on this special occasion.
My favourite part about this gift experience was watching her reaction as she opened them. As suspected, she absolutely loved the gifts and she was so adorably over the moon. She was so trilled to receive a new piece of jewelry, and she was even more excited to know that it was handmade. She loved the floral “90”, and she proudly recited her French poem by heart when she saw it in her card.
When she opened the frame, she stared at the photo for a few seconds before recognizing herself. Mouth dropped, she had such an amazed look on her face. “Where did you find this photo?“, she asked us. (Shout out to my uncle and the technological wonders of sending photos over WhatsApp when you’re in a different country).
After a few moments of staring a her photo, she shed tears as she nostalgically looked at her younger self. A sudden pang of emotion hit me too. I saw it clearly, in her teary eyes, that she was longing for that sunny day in the garden again.