My great-grandmother Snyder seldom threw anything away. For her, turning one item into another had all the energy of the resurrection itself.
So, it’s fitting in this Easter season to remember Great-grandma and her skill of transformation using needle and thread.
She darned socks, turned frayed collars from one side to another, sewed patches on knees and elbows, and, finally, made rugs out of any good cloth that remained in used dresses, skirts, shirts, and petticoats.
In her old age, Great-grandma did not go into a retirement home. Instead, she visited her four children for several months at a time. She didn’t “retire,” she just moved from being the executive of the kitchen and dining room to being the helper.
Like many other elderly Mennonite and Amish women (and some men), she found delight in braiding rugs.
I remember entering the den of my Grandma Hershey’s house at the time when Great Grandma was staying there. She wanted to show us her latest handwork.
Great Grandma Snyder took old wool coats collected from family, cut them into strips, and braided them and sewed them into a large oval that fit the floor of the den. We oohed and ahhed. It was a major work of art as well as a sturdy, useful item.
The process she used can easily be learned by following the instructions on this Talina Norris-Ryder Youtube.
Another Mennonite practice is making rugs out of used clothing by using looms. My mother-in-law would gather up our rags and take them to Old Order Mennonite territory in Dayton, Virginia. On Christmas day, she would pull out rag rugs from her closet.
I still have many of these sturdily constructed rugs in my home. She even gave them to her grandchildren. They last for decades.
The Ephrata Materials Resources Center of the Mennonite Central Committee
continues this practice. Retired men and women make and transform items to sell. The proceeds are used to donate funds for worldwide relief. This verse serves as their motto:
I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink,
I was a stranger and you welcomed me…
One of my friends purchased a rug made of old neckties at the center above!
Recently, as I was preparing to give a talk in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, I went to the handmade walnut desk where I store linens.
There in the third drawer were two braided rugs with such small braids they might have been used as hair on a doll.
Opening that drawer was like a resurrection. Even though Great Grandma Snyder died in 1964, fifty years ago, she still lives in both my memory and my house. I own two of her rugs.
My cousin Anita said she thinks these were made using old nylon stockings with runs in them. Now that’s recycling!
Is making braided rugs a lost art? Well, I have to admit that I haven’t made any rugs of my own – yet.
A former student of mine, Diana, however, has taken her own Lancaster County Mennonite heritage to the next generation. She made a braided rug with her step-daughter:
Diana has inspired me to save a bag of old clothes, either to donate to MCC or to make a rug with my grandchildren.
Great-grandma Snyder, your legacy lives on!
What do you do with old clothing? Do you claim another kind of legacy from your great-grandma?