Every so often I am asked if I teach. I prefer to do one-on-one teaching much like how I learned to embroider from my mother, giving my pupil my full attention and allowing them to learn what they want to learn at their own speed and as their schedule allow. Such was the way young girls learned essential sewing skills from their mothers or mother-figure.
A few months ago Ginger Paul visited the BAQ studio with the most extraordinary sewing samples made by her paternal grandmother Caroline Katherine Koeppen (Knapp) Nassal. The samples are evidence of her skill progression from age four to eleven.
Ginger shares the following information on her remarkable grandmother who divorced her philandering husband and supported her two children at the start of the Great Depression with her sewing skills.
Caroline's (Carrie) father died in a tragic construction accident about six months before she was born (March 28, 1888). She was supported and raised by her Mother Anna Koeppen.
Carrie had no more than a 6th or an 8th grade education at School #15 in Buffalo, New York but she could spell and write a good grammatically correct letter with good penmanship and she could communicate much better than most Junior High School students could do in 1964 when I started teaching!
As a young girl she loves to sew and her hand work is so perfect it looks as though it might have been done by machine. In later years, she uses a treadle (foot) sewing machine as a professional seamstress.
She marries Anthony George Knapp in 1910. He works as a stove molder making cast iron stoves with the S.S. Jewett Company. Later he works an assigned job for the City of Buffalo and Civil Service security work at public events. They welcome two children Virginia and John E. In 1920 they live at 181 York Street in Buffalo, New York.
Anthony is a bit of a womanizer and their marriage ends in 1929. In the divorce settlement Carrie receives custody of Virginia and John, now 17 and 12. She keeps their current home a two-story with an upstairs apartment located at 335 Baynes Street, Buffalo. She operates a dressmaking business in the dining room "work room" and living room "fitting room" to support her family.
Carrie meets widower William "Bill" P. Nassal at the Universalist Church at North and Mariner Streets, Buffalo and they marry in 1931. Fourteen-year-old son John E. wears his first pair of long pants at the wedding.
Bill Nassal buys the home at 290 Voorhees Avenue, Buffalo for his new bride and as a wedding gift the kitchen is completely renovated and updated including a mechanical dishwasher! Unheard of in 1931! Carrie gives up her dressmaking business and gets a position working at the high fashion "L. L. Berger" department store in downtown Buffalo. She always dressed fashionably and worked as a clothing fitter into her 80s.
The hand-sewn samples Ginger shares with me are all labeled. At age four she sews around a hand drawn leaf- a precursor to the sewing cards and laces I sewed as a child. Ginger is most impressed with the blue and white check fabric (cotton) about 5"x 5". From the front it looks like a fabric square. Turn it over and you see a 4" x 4" hand sewn patch- invisible on the front. According to the label Carrie was 11 years old when she made it. Ginger believes the labeled pieces were school assignments- part of the curriculum for the girls' future duties as homemakers.
Carrie dies at 83 in June 1971 but not before making Ginger's wedding veil that was later worn by her daughter on her wedding day. Ginger's parents give her the precious box filled with her sewing samples as a testament and remembrance of the woman who endured hard times with determination and a needle in her hand.