ColumnistsLife After 55

Pass on Your Passions

By Michele Bazan Reed       Email:

The author’s son, Mike, uses the woodworking skills he inherited from his great-grandfather to craft custom electric guitars.

One of my favorite photos in the old family album is of my mom and me on Easter Sunday 1957. There we are in our holiday finery — cotton coat, matching Sunday best dress — both outfits sewn by my mom.

That was only one example of clothes, quilts, afghans and embroidery my mom made over the years, and when I got a little older, she introduced me to the mysteries of the bobbin, needle and thread that made it all possible. We sat for hours at the old Singer while my mom practiced the virtue of patience as I sewed seams of wavering widths, clipped darts making holes in the garment and pinned up uneven hems. Soon though, I was competently making my own clothing — first simple doll outfits and later clothes I actually wore to school. Imagine teens today wearing homemade outfits to school! But many boomer peers tell me they remember sewing their own clothes, too.

I followed my mom’s example, getting into quilts, building an impressive stash of fabrics and patterns. For the 1976 Bicentennial I started a red, white and blue pinwheel quilt, all sewn by hand. I only managed to get enough done to make enough squares for two small throw pillows.

When I had a daughter of my own, Katie accompanied me on shopping trips to the fabric store, acquiring more fabrics than I could use in a lifetime. She loved the colors and patterns, and I’d make her outfits and doll clothes. She got a double dose of sewing and crafting passion from my husband, Bill’s, grandmother, who sewed clothing and quilts for all of her kids and then grandkids, great-grands and great-great grands.

One of the first projects — a canvas tote bag.

Now, it’s all come full circle. Katie has gotten interested in designer fashions of the 1960s and ‘70s. Shopping on consignment and auction sites as well as estate sales, she’s managed to build a nice collection of vintage clothing. But a recent estate sale find changed everything. She scored a big stash of original fabric by her favorite designer, various patterns and yardages. Now she was inspired to try her hand at the family passion.  She purchased her first sewing machine — a far cry from great-grandmother’s treadle machine or my mom’s mid-century Singer — Katie’s has 37 stitches!

She loaded up on practice fabric — cottons, canvasses and knits she’d eventually be sewing into ’70s fashions.

I have to admit, she’s better than her mother — by the end of the month she’d made two tote bags and a couple of pencil cases, manipulating canvas and cotton into usable gifts for family and friends. She even tried her hand at a knit top — something I’ve never mastered.

My son, Mike, got a couple of hobbies from his forebears, too. My father was always tinkering with cars, specifically the Willys Jeeps that reminded him of his World War II experience driving jeeps and ambulances for the 2nd Evacuation Hospital in Europe. He always had a “project jeep” and one or two for parts in our backyard. Mike was just a teen when he picked up a wrench and he restored his own succession of bargain cars. He’s in his 40s and never has had a car payment. The car passion led him to a career with a local dealership.

A purchase of 1970s designer fabrics inspired Katie to try her hand at the sewing skills she grew up watching her mom and great-grandmother practice.

Bill’s grandfather was a carpenter and Mike took up woodworking a few years ago. After building furniture until he had no more space in his big house, he turned his hand toward custom guitars. He can take a slab of wood and turn out a playable — and beautiful — electric guitar using his routers, planer and fret files.

Passing on our passions is one of the best ways we can bond with our kids and grandkids. Whether you love crafting or painting, reading, hiking or gardening, share it with a young person in your life. A session spent together, learning and laughing builds bonds and passes on useful skills to a new generation.

And if you don’t have grandkids of your own, see if your local school or library would like a demonstration of your passion.

There are plenty of YouTube and TikTok videos where young people can learn new skills. But there’s nothing like spending some quality time with a grandparent, learning something they are passionate about. And the old-time tricks and tips, learned through decades of experience, are priceless.

The author enjoys a pencil case sewn by her daughter.

You don’t have to be an expert, either. Your time and attention are the best gift you can give your grandkids — the hobby skills are just a bonus.

And even if you lack special skills, you can enjoy the experience of learning together. Always wanted to paint? What child doesn’t love making a masterpiece — and a mess? Why not explore art together?

Pass on your passions and who knows? You may just come away energized to ignite an old hobby or start a new one.