More paintings Grandma-style


This was where my grandparents lived when I was a little girl.  It was an old-fashioned apartment building with only two units on each floor.  There was dark brown linoleum in the halls and on the stairs.  It overlooked Byrd Park.  That’s the edge of the lake you can see on the right.

Grandma watched me a lot until I was almost 4 because my mother would work with my father as his bookkeeper.  That’s when I first learned to watch soap operas!  Many years later, it was one of the activities we still had in common and when I worked near her apartment as a married woman, I would go over there for lunch and we would watch soaps together.

One of my clearest memories of this building was Halloween the year I was dressed as an angel.  Just getting over there in my big cardboard wings was a production.  Then I had to climb the stairs.  I must have been about 5 years old but it was an adventure.  I was allowed to knock on all the apartment doors. 

Halloween wasn’t the big deal it is today and the old lady across the hall had no idea anyone would come to her door.  She gave me a whole box of Bridge Mix.  For you young people, that was chocolate covered nuts and raisins that ladies would put out in a pretty dish when folks came over to play cards.

A sunny day in late fall

I love the shadows in this little fall landscape and the little animals she tucked here and there.  She probably looked out her window to the park to sketch it.

Some pictures she drew looking at postcards.  Her oldest son collected stamps and he often bought box lots of postcards to salvage the stamps.  Of course, many of them were the same and he had no use for them.  When I was about 10, he gave me a huge box of postcards, most from the early 1900’s.  Many were simply addressed with a name, city and state. Hard to believe they were delivered, isn’t it? One of these days, I’ll share some of those with you.

Mount Vernon

I’m pretty sure this came from a postcard or magazine.  I don’t think she ever visited Mount Vernon.  If she did, it was years before she started embroidering.  My grandfather stopped driving in the early 1950’s.

Natural Bridge

This is my favorite of the ones I have at home.  I love how dimensional the hole in the rock looks.  It hangs at the foot of my stairs so I see it as I come down.  It never gets old to me.

Thanks for looking and taking this little walk down memory lane with me.  I promise to come back to the 21st century next time!


Thread painting – Grandma style

Thread painting is a phrase used by modern day quilters to describe the heavy use of thread, usually by machine, on the surface to create the look of painted strokes.

My grandmother, Mollie Harowitz, wasn’t a quilter and never heard of thread painting.  I never saw her use a sewing machine.  She did all her work by hand, most of it after she developed arthritis in her fifties.

Fall colors

Mollie did all her work with embroidery thread.  In those days, that usually meant silk thread.  The pieces glow as if they were lit from within.

She had no lessons that I ever heard of.  She would just take a piece of fabric and sketch a picture on it with a pencil.  Then she filled in the whole thing with stitches. The tree picture above is fairly typical of her early work.  Most of the stitches are simply short straight lines, often overlapping neighboring stitches.

Boats at Newport News

She didn’t pay a lot of attention to perspective and apparently never gave much consideration to how a work would be framed.  In the harbor picture above, you can see that her initials are cut off on the side.

Grandma got better at shading things as she did more work.  You can see the depth in the grass in the foreground and the darker threads on the shady side of the trees.  She even began to show the shadows on the ground.

Coming up the drive

I don’t know where you would be standing to get a view like this of a house and the driveway.  It’s almost as if she were seeing it from an airplane.  She worked hard to put details in this picture but they are often out of scale with the yellow flowers (French knots) as big as the heads of the people coming up the driveway.  Yet the whole thing fairly throbs with life. 

My parents had these pictures and many more hanging in their house.  For reasons I will never understand, almost all of them were put into elaborate old frames, carved and gilded to within an inch of their lives.  The mats were bright blue, red or green and dwarfed the subtle beauty of the embroidery.

I ended up taking most of them home.  The first thing I did was have them re-matted in organic neutrals and framed with a plain dark wood.  I have trimmed all that off the photographs so you can just enjoy her work.  I hoped my children would fall in love with them once they saw them reframed but no such luck.

Skating on the river

The background fabric was blue in this picture which gives the sky a wholly different look with the dull blue peeking out amidst the wisps of snowy clouds.  She did a better job with the people.  Instead of just dark smudges, they are clearly wearing different clothes and you can see them moving on the ice.  It looks like there are several people in the background riding sleds down to the water.  Each part of the picture contains other little details.

More next time!