Finding My Hope Chest.

I've introduced you time and again to my grandparents. At the cabin, around the table, in our knits, and in the kitchen we're reminded of them often. Today I stumbled upon a treasure box that had escaped my recollection for nearly nine years. My hope chest (here's a definition for those new to the custom). Lupine and I were in the basement and I spied a familiar plastic tub in the corner. How I have not noticed it for the past many years I'm not sure.

Grandma Lee put together a hope chest for both my sister and me, her only grandchildren. Mine always sat inside the back door of her walk-out basement, an old steamer trunk she lined with white and red contact paper. It smelled of moth balls and was one of favorite place for me to go when we'd visit. I'd sit on the tile floor and pull out the many handmade treasures that would be mine someday, spreading them out on the floor and imagining the life they would belong in when I was grown.

I don't remember when exactly she passed ny hope chest along to me. I suspect it was when I moved away from home or perhaps on a milestone birthday, like when I turned 18. (She was fond of special-long-awaited-gifts-for-milestone-birthdays.) The hope chest was never tied to marriage – my grandma didn't live to see Pete and I marry just a few miles from her home, alongside the river that flowed past her door – but was always about growing up. Nearly everything inside was made by her hands. 

When I got my first apartment I dug out some (hand knitted) washcloths and a few dish towels, along with the pots, pans, spatulas, whisks, and silverware she also provided. Years later when Sage was born I pulled out all of the hand-knits that my kids have worn these many years – ponchos, mittens, sweaters, hats, and some blankets. I saved the rest for a future day, determined to bring them out slowly over time so that I could enjoy them forever. And then I forgot about them all together. Until today!

Everything that was hiding in the trunk needs a little love – some oxygen bleach and time in the sun and perhaps a good ironing. But I just had to share them with you today – wrinkles and all.The detail work on the embroidery is amazing and the colors and patterns are a window into another time.

Sure, the hope chest is an old fashioned custom, but as long as we make them for our boys too, I say let's carry on with it. Preparing our children for moving into their own homes and their independence while providing them with a bit more of that handmade mama- (or grandma- in this case) love? All the better.

Here are a few of the treasures we found:




These pillowcases are embroidered with bluebirds. Bluebirds!




This afghan was on my bed as a child. The pattern was in the knitting stash I inherited when my grandma died and is scribbled across the top with her hand-written notes. The tag on the afghan reads "Made with love by Grandma". Aw.


One of two sets of day-of-the-week towels. The tasks per day are consistent across both sets (evidently I'm suppose to clean on Friday).


Appliqued pillowcase detail. So amazing!



I'm thinking that some of these fingertip towels will find their way onto my kids' clothes – as pockets for Sage and apron front skirts for Ms. Bluebird.


And a post script: As we sorted through the treasures I noticed this: Lupine's sweater. Lupine was wearing a too-small-but-well-loved sweater made by the same hands that created all the goodness in this box. And Sage? He was wearing socks that I knit for him and the pants he made himself. So the tradition continues. We live, we love, we craft, we give. Thanks for all the magic, Grandma.


22 thoughts on “Finding My Hope Chest.

  1. Emmy says:

    Your grandmother did beautiful work. And so blessed you are to have a whole trunk full of her work. Made me think: if I started working on it now, maybe in 15 years my daughter could have a stash like that to start her adult life with. hmmm.

  2. Pamela R says:

    I was just thinking about your grandma today as I buttoned up the well-loved (slightly too big…so lots more wearing left..yippie) sweater on my little one. It is a dark turquoise color and it is the one (in addition to her “buttons” sweater) that she chooses again and again.

    Everytime I button her up or I pull on my favorite green sweater (wink), I think about all of the people who wore each one before my daughter and I. Each sweater is alive with those your grandma loved.

    Thank you for sharing your grandma with us. She has left a legacy of warmth and love that I am so happy to be a part of.

  3. Tracey says:

    How beautiful Rachel. Thank you for showing us all the love that came from you chest. I use all the items from my great-grandmother, grandmom, and my husband’s grandmom. Every time I touch a pillow case or a tea towel they made, I think of them and how much I still love them.

  4. Susanne says:

    I am in love with the idea of a hope chest! In fact, I have begun creating things to put away for my future wee ones and life as a wife/mama. I just have to find a lovely chest to hold it all! I just finished my first ever quilt and I know that will become a part of it. I never knew either of my grandmothers and often wish I had something that they had made to tell me more about them. Your grandmother’s work is truly remarkable. You must feel truly blessed to have those items. Thank you for sharing this and reminding us that it is important to create a narrative to pass on to the next generation.

  5. Rachel Wolf says:

    Love you, sister. Thanks for getting my gram even though you never met her. So glad that you have the magic green sweater and a wee cardigan from her stash. (And of course The Starry-Button Sweater.) xo Rachel

  6. Rachel Wolf says:

    That was the effect I was trying to describe in the post Loving Hands about my grandma. The object created with love is much more powerful than the practical work that it does in our life.


  7. Rachel Wolf says:

    I kept the chest mine was in for years but found it transferred the permanent moth-ball smell to everything we put in it so it sat empty. I finally passed it along to a friend who needed a side table. A small vintage painted dresser would be sweet (and useful!) as well. Just an idea…

    ~ Rachel

  8. Custom Buttons says:

    I never knew either my grandmother, and often wish I had something that had to tell you more about them. Grandma’s work is truly remarkable. You should feel truly blessed with these things.

  9. Rachel Wolf says:

    My kids only know my parents, so I understand what you speak of. It shifts the concept of family when you know a person, their story, they penchant for certain colors… Im blessed to have know this Grandma into my early 20s and my dads mom right into my own entry into motherhood. (She died when Sage was a baby. She was crazy about him!)

    ~ Rachel

  10. Kathleen says:

    I loved this post! I found it through a google search and am so pleased to see the photos of these beautiful items. I love the concept of a hope chest and enjoy looking at what others have made. Your grandma made you a treasure! I’m making one for my daughter, well, we’re actually working on it together. Come visit, if you like, at

  11. Spalva says:

    That is amazingly inspiring to me! Wow. My grandmother hand-sewed cathedral square quilt tops for everyone in the family (I dunno, like at least twenty of us).

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