Coffee Klatsch, Memories, Oh Ja, Stearns

Buttons & Rickrack & Wrestling, Oh My!

We didn’t have jewels in our family but we had buttons.

Jars and tins of buttons. Cards of unused buttons. Buttons snipped and hoarded from favorite dresses, coats, and blouses. Everyday spares for trousers and shirts.

Sparkly ones saved for some magical future garment, or to jazz up a sweater or dress by replacing plain buttons with gorgeous ones.

To me they are treasures – plain, colored, mother of pearl, resin, metal, studded with rhinestones, animal shapes. There are no bad buttons.

When my sister Marilyn and I visited the Palace of Versailles in France, she found amongst the ancient cobblestones an elaborate metal button from a soldier’s uniform, age unknown. Precious!


Beyond buttons are ‘notions’.

The word conjures possibilities – dreams of what something you’re making can turn into with rickrack, pompoms, ribbons or pins.

I also appreciate sewing aids: pin cushions, thimbles, seam rippers, needle keepers.

Grandma Lena’s worn silver thimble was used for quilting, patching, and hand sewing.

She and then my mother used that thimble for decades.

I feel close to them when I slip it over my own finger even though I rarely mend, quilt or sew.

As a young woman, Lena worked as a milliner and glove maker.

Hats and gloves are no longer in fashion, but the other week I indulged myself with a creation from Seventh & Fig, one of New Zealand’s last hat makers.

When I wear it, I’ll think of Lena.


Babes In Toyland hat, Seventh & Figg.

Everything I learned about well-made clothes was gleaned from my grandmothers and aunts, my mother, and all the women I knew in Central Minnesota, who sewed of necessity, yes, but also with genuine pride and pleasure.

Almost by osmosis I absorbed what they knew about fabric quality, washability and likely durability, and also how to check if a garment is well made.

Are the seams even? Are the buttons firmly attached? Does the zipper glide smoothly? Do plaids and patterned fabrics match at the seams? Are the hems straight and well sewn?


Lena and Grandpa Joe were a team in their senior years, making simple quilts, crocheted items like Poopy Ducks and spool holders to sell at flea markets in the west every winter, earning enough to cover living costs while snowbirding in their RV.

Grandma Mina was a master craftswoman – an artist, really.

Her attic was her ‘she shed’, filled with half-finished fabric projects, her sewing machine, balls of yarn, knitting needles, crochet hooks, thread spools in every color, embroidery floss, and piles of vintage material, all waiting to be made into something useful. And pretty.

Mina had an artist’s eye for fabrics, obvious in the quilt tops in her attic trove waiting for their transformation into a finished quilt.

She was also skilled at appliqué and crazy quilting, favoring bright colors in her fabrics, embroidery floss and threads.

When Grandma Mina died, her many children decided the fairest way to divide her belongings was to hold an auction so everyone could bid on what they wanted, then split the proceeds.

Among the items purchased by my parents were Mina’s quilting patterns, quilt tops, and beautifully appliquéd quilt blocks. I am fortunate to have some of these, along with the tiny glass mugs her grandkids sipped from while chewing child-sized spicy cookies.

And her bed, which I slept in somewhat self-consciously until I left home.


Just as I am intrigued that my diminutive Grandma Lena used to play the harmonica, Grandma Mina also had an unusual hobby.

She adored Minnesota wrestler Verne Gagne, who grew up in Robbinsdale and was an all-round athlete, also playing baseball and football.

Grandma Mina’s crush, legendary Minnesota wrestler Verne Gagne.

When Verne was on TV, Mina’s world stopped.

I regularly witnessed her transformation from self-possessed granny to shrieking, air-punching Gagne superfan.

Wrestling is so graphic.

All that stomping, headlocking, body slamming, and grunting.

But Mina loved it.

And Verne Gagne.


Photos arkady2013 (istock), Pro Wrestling Illustrated, LenaMina.com

7 thoughts on “Buttons & Rickrack & Wrestling, Oh My!”

  1. Lois Thielen says:

    I have a few jars of buttons and a sewing machine cabinet drawer of thread spools and a lot of old dress patterns from my custom sewing days. Nowadays my sewing is mostly mending jeans and various household items. I made things as challenging as corded bedspreads and blazers and could put in a three-step zipper in five minutes.

    1. Editor says:

      So interested Lois that Lena’s sisters were not makers like she was: sewing, needlework, clothing, hats, gloves. She was amazing. I have never done a three step zipper in five minutes. I actually can’t remember when I sewed a three step zipper. Maybe in families certain people get the complete gene, like my sister Marilyn, yourself, and Lena. And the other sisters were foodies so that was their focus.

  2. Jan Warner says:

    This was a fun read! I am lucky to have one of Lena and Joes spool holders. I also have a doll cradle and little rocking chair pin cushion. I don’t have many things from my grandparents so these are very special. It was interesting hearing Lena played the harmonica. I never knew that but my mom, Rita, asked for a harmonica one year for Christmas which I gifted to her. I love the story of a button found by Marilyn in the cobble streets in France. I also had no idea Lena and Joe used to be snowbirds in an RV. That’s fun to hear. Thanks for sharing these fun stories Laurie.

    1. Editor says:

      Arizona every winter, often with Aunt Irene nearby. I will add to this story Marilyn’s how-to for a button picture she made for me with both Grandmas’ white, cream, mother of pearl and rhinestone buttons. Adore it. Thank you Marilyn.

  3. 6 of 7 says:

    I inherited Mina’s sewing cabinet. The drawers were filled with old glass Alka Seltzer bottles full of buttons. When I moved out of St Cloud, Marti traded me that cabinet for Lena’s Franciscan apple dishes. Those have been displayed in my china hutch for 20 years, which makes no sense because I think they’re ugly. Will some family member please take them off my hands? I’m not sure what Marti did with all those buttons.

    Marilyn made me a beautiful button collage using white and ivory buttons from both grandmas, and I believe they were sewn onto one of Lena’s tablecloths. She framed it and gave it to me as a wedding gift. One of my treasures!

  4. Sister Marti says:

    I never had grandmas apple dishes or her sewing machine. If I would have had grandma’s buttons I would have treasured them. I don’t know where grandmas sewing machine is. I bet mom just gave you those apple dishes. Our memories are so different on some things. Maybe Marilyn and Laurie have a memory of sewing machine. Also I know grandma Hilsgen was an avid wrestling fan..I was there many times w her sitting in the back room watching wrestling.

    1. Editor says:

      I remember the sewing machine! And that attic was an Aladdin’s cave. She didn’t like us going up there and don’t blame her but am glad for the memories. The machine was probably auctioned with everything else. Dad liked wrestling too and I remember them watching together. I was never a fan. I don’t get it. Or boxing, or football, or so many sports. When they cleaned out Grandma’s house they found a hoard of empty Verne Gagne vitamin pills. Maybe they were her elixir to staying mobile and healthy for so long.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.