Display surprises 93-year-old woman

Display surprises 93-year-old woman

Posted: Saturday, August 9, 2008 6:55 pm

Display surprises 93-year-old woman | Irene Johnson

Irene Johnson
By CASEY CURLIN Messenger Intern “Oh my lands!” said Irene Johnson of Union City as she walked into the front doors of the Obion County Public Library. Her friends and family gathered around like paparazzi to capture her expression when she saw her surprise for the first time on Saturday. (See related photo, Page 12.) Mrs. Johnson’s surprise can be seen in the foyer of the library. The eye is immediately drawn to the right, where a glass display case currently houses a unique exhibit. There are homemade quilts bursting with vivid colors and hand-embroidered detail; Christmas ornaments made from gourds, light bulbs and paint stirrers; pillows covered in fabric yo-yos; hand-made colorful ceramics; stuffed dolls with pretty hand embroidered faces; fair yarn braids and the list goes on. Mrs. Johnson is the creator of the hand-made crafts in the display, which was put together by her family as a surprise for her 94th birthday on Aug. 21. “Well, I’m not happy unless I’m sewing,” Mrs. Johnson said. And her family attests to the fact that if she is ever sitting down, she has a project in her lap. It is easy to imagine this, considering the number of crafts on display, but one of her daughters, Janie Gill, said the items are mostly from the Gill home. It does not include the crafts at Mrs. Johnson’s house, except for a few items they were able to smuggle out. “I had a little bottle with hat pins in it by my bathroom, and Janie got that and I didn’t even notice,” Mrs. Johnson said with a laugh. The crafts are in high demand among her family members, several of whom were wearing examples of her homemade beaded jewelry at the exhibit. She is constantly working on items for her four daughters, eight grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren, five great-great-grandchildren and numerous in-laws. Mrs. Johnson has been crafting for as long as she can remember, but the most interesting part of her hobby is that each item she creates has a story behind it. The penny rugs are her latest endeavor. Several of the wool felt circles, about 19 inches in diameter with a fringe of small circles, hang in the display case. Mrs. Johnson identified two of the patterns stitched onto the felt of the penny rugs as “pie bird” and “midnight in the garden.” Others are holiday-themed with Santa hats and Easter bunnies. Mrs. Gill said she gave her mother the pattern book in February and she has since made 22 penny rugs. “They all go on about the little stitches, and they say, ‘How in the world do you make those little stitches?’ I say, ‘Well I just sit and sew and the needle knows where to go,’” Mrs. Johnson said. One penny rug she made for her granddaughter-in-law’s mother, whose sister and husband died suddenly. Mrs. Johnson gave it to her granddaughter-in-law, who saved it and gave it to her mother on Father’s Day. “She said she wasn’t expecting a gift on Father’s Day, then she opened that up and said, ‘Ooooh!’ We just have fun about everything,” Mrs. Johnson said. Mrs. Johnson no longer quilts but there are several quilts in the display which showcase her talent. She once had a sewing club in Samburg and there she worked on a green clover quilt which is currently in the display. Her friend’s husband saw the quilt and told his wife, “Now you tell Mrs. Johnson that I want that quilt, that’s my quilt,” and since then Mrs. Johnson has called it “Jim’s Quilt,” though it now belongs to one of her grandsons. Mrs. Johnson calls a blue calico and off-white strip of quilt pattern in the display “Ruby’s Quilt.” Years ago, her friend, Ruby, saw a quilt that she (Mrs. Johnson) was making and liked it so much she purchased all of the same materials to make one exactly like it. However, Ruby was sick and was unable to finish the quilt. Ruby’s daughter then asked Mrs. Johnson if she could finish the quilt, but Mrs. Johnson was behind on several projects and consulted a friend who agreed to work on it until she became ill as well. Since then Mrs. Johnson has kept the pieces of the quilt in case the daughter ever returns for them, though she doubts that will happen because Ruby has since died and her daughter now lives in Texas. The idea for the hand-sewn dolls came from Mrs. Gill, who bought a similar one from a church bazaar for $50, and brought it to Mrs. Johnson. “We found a pattern somewhere and I made one for all four of the girls. Now that was tedious,” Mrs. Johnson said. A Christmas tree in the display case shows off numerous home-made Christmas ornaments, including a small mouse ornament wearing a gingham dress which Mrs. Johnson said is 30 or 40 years old. She was also proud of her snowman ornament made from a paint stirrer. She designed several snowman ornaments from paint stirrers for her grandson to give as Christmas gifts when he worked at the former Homestead. He brought her the paint stirrers from work and she painted them white and glued buttons and hats on them. Mrs. Johnson said she has no plans to slow down on crafting as long as her hands and eyes hold out; even now she has several projects in the production phase. “No, I can’t sit down and idle myself. I’ve heard women say, ‘Oh, I just get so bored I don’t know what to do!’ and I can’t get everything done,” Mrs. Johnson said. Casey Curlin, a Fulton native, is a communications major at the University of Tennessee at Martin. Published in The Messenger 8.8.08

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