My mom is a very talented woman. And smart, too. When she puts her mind to something, there’s no stopping her. Do any of you crafty folks remember back in the 80’s when stamped cross stitch was popular? Maybe you worked up some of these “samplers”, as they were called. Or your mother, grandmother or sister may have sewn something similar. Mom started a business when she was in her early thirties and sold these samplers at craft stores locally. She would create the pattern by hand, first drawing it out, and then transferring it to a piece of acetate using a permanent black marker, transferring every detail onto the acetate. She paid a silk screen maker to created the screens for her. She would cut hundreds of pieces of cloth by hand. My grandfather built her a special cutting board that was about 7’ x 5’ so she could roll out bolts of fabric in layers and cut through several thicknesses of fabric at once. A couple of evenings a week, she and my step dad printed the sampler designs onto the fabric pieces. One by one. We had a full size ping-pong table in the basement, and that served as our drying table. Her “employees” (her children ranging in age from 13 to 3, at the time) would earn a little spending money by taking turns carefully walking a freshly printed pattern from the printing table (an old dining room table converted to a silk screening stand) over to the drying table. Then we would walk back, and pick up the next printed cloth and walk it next to the previous one and lay it down gently to dry. The drying time was about 10 minutes, so by the time the ping-pong table was covered with samplers, we could start over and place newly printed patterns again to start the second layer. If this sounds boring and tedious, it was. But when you earned 2 cents per sampler….on a busy night, we could earn three or four dollars. That was enough to satisfy a pre-teen and keep them working. We would count our steps, race back to the printing table to try to get there before our parents were finished with the next cloth, sing songs, have conversations about everything under the sun, laugh and do whatever we could to try to make the time pass quickly.
Mom would later package these samplers and then distribute them herself to various stores that carried her designs. At the time, they sold for $1.50 each. Customers would buy colors of embroidery floss of their choice and stitch away. They created wall hangings, pillows, and quilts out of these samplers.
The family business grew slowly. It grew enough that mom hired a few of her neighbor lady friends to stitch up patterns that were needed for store displays. She also had a few friends on her staff of regular packagers. She delivered boxes of supplies, and two days later would pick up everything all packaged and ready to deliver to a store. Eventually, when counted cross stitch became the trend, and printed samplers lost their appeal, the company changed direction a bit. Computer designing was something my mom worked hard to learn. She became a skilled designer and created amazing patterns! This was a time not every household had a PC. And not every housewife learned complicated design software and created her own computerized bookkeeping system. Countless hours were spent designing and detailing a pattern, making sure the instructions were perfect, printing the patterns (at a printer, this time….not on fabric squares) and packaging. This process was always completed at home, in the computer room (bedroom converted into an office) or at the kitchen table. Mom didn’t become financially well-off from her endeavors, but she was very rich in other aspects. She worked from home, which was always her intention and motivation for this entire project. She was always busy creating, selling and stitching, but she also made home cooked meals every night for her family. When my siblings and I arrived home from school in the afternoons, she was there to greet us and hear about our day.
I remember when this business began, she used phrases like, “I know I can do it” and “it will take a lot of work, but it will be worth it”. She had to convince some of her closest family members that she wasn’t crazy. She had a vision and knew that people would buy her product. I saw the joy in her face when a pattern was stitched up, framed and ready to display at a store to promote sales. She always expressed that it was worth the effort. It was her creative outlet and she was always productive and contributed to her family’s wellbeing. She taught me to dream and to work hard. Even for 2 cents at a time. She taught me to put my family first by taking care of hers with devotion and selflessness that only a mother knows. I’ve embarked on similar “adventures” as an adult. She always encourages me and tells me I have talents and I can do whatever I put my mind to. So thanks, mom. Thanks for showing me how to follow my dreams!