Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew

Avatar Gaye Levy  |  Updated: December 16, 2020
Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew

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A few weeks ago I was looking for some books that address old fashioned, tried and true ways of doing things.  When I found “How to Sew a Button and Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew” I knew I was on to something.  After reading this little book of quirky wisdom cover to cover,  I knew that I had to share it with you.  It is witty, informative and in its own way sweet.  Not only that, the tips shared are from ten real grandmothers who lived through the Great Depression and contributed their knowledge to the book.

Reading through the chapters of How to Sew a Button is like paging through a depression-era manual on self-sufficiency.  It includes all sorts of do-it-yourself advice and – no surprise here – tips on how to get by with very little money by wasting nothing.

how to sew a button (3)

Here are some of the chapter headings (but there are a lot more):

Be a Good Catch: How to Filet a Fish
Keep Away Pests: How to Naturally Protect Your Garden from No-Good Insects
Save Your Shirt: How to Sew a Button
Get Stoked: How to Build a Fire
Take the Cheese: How to Rid Your House of Mice
Chill Out: How to Save on Energy Costs
and one of my favorites
You Might as Well Dance: How to Do a Basic Waltz

The author, Erin Bried, has started each of the chapters with a direct quote – more of a musing, really – from one of the Grandmothers.  Here’s one:

“We had a washtub, a big yellow bar of soap, and a rub board.  So we’d rub our clothes on that board and hang them on the line to dry.  We felt proud of our clean clothes or I wouldn’t have done it.”

My guess is that the big yellow bar of soap was Fels Naptha!  Now these days I would use my mobile washer instead of a washboard but the same principal applies.

One of the topics that was of particular interest to me was dandelion wine.  As a number of readers so aptly pointed out awhile back, I should harvest dandelions and not kill them with my homemade weed killer.  Here is how the recipe starts:

“Kick off your shoes, go outside on a sunny afternoon, and pick 2 quarts worth of fresh dandelion blossoms.  You need only the flower petals, so  pluck them from their heads and give them a good wash. (The leaves and stems will bitter your wine.)”

See what I mean about quirky wisdom?  Do you detect the bit of fun as you envision kicking off your shoes and stepping outdoors on a nice sunny day?


My bathroom drain is constantly clogging up.  I refuse to use harsh chemicals and getting out the snake thingy is a lot of work.  Here is a tip from How to Sew a Button that just works!

1.  Sprinkle 1/2 cup baking soda down your slow-running or clogged drain.

2.  Wash it down with 1/2 cup white vinegar. It’ll bubble like your fifth-grade science experiment, but put a stopper over it and let the fizz work for 15 minutes.

3.  In the meantime, put on a full kettle to boil water.

4.  After your 15 minutes are up and your kettle whistles, unplug the drain and pour the boiling water down it.  Repeat if necessary.

This really does work great and to keep things flowing, sprinkle 1/2 cup of baking soda down the drain weekly followed by hot tap water.  This keeps thing sweet smelling, fresh and clear!


This little book is definitely not something to be read once and put back on the shelf.  Much as I love Clara (Clara’s Kitchen), I now love these ten grandmothers and the author who brought their wisdom to life.  It is perfect for anyone who wants to go back – in spirit at least – to a time when technology and modern conveniences did not dominate our lives.

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And more than that, it is like having your own personal nana right there in your kitchen, offering over 100 tips for living your life in a simpler yet smarter and happier manner.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!

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Bargain Bin:  Here are some items related to today’s article.

How to Sew a Button and Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew:  You are going to love this book.  It is charming and and timely and filled with good-natured humor and the loving spirits of grandmothers everywhere.

How to Build a Fire: And Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew: From the same author and on my shelf, waiting to be read.  The book offers a glimpse into the hearts and minds of grandfathers near and far by sharing their practical skills and sweet stories on how to be stronger, smarter, richer, and happier.

Mobile Washer

Mobile Washer: This is hand operated washing machine. Like a plunger, it uses a technique of pushing and pulling the water through clothes to clean them well without wearing them out. It uses a minimum of water and less soap due to the agitation motion. Use in a bucket (5-gallon suggested), sink or tub.

Galvanized Washboard:  This old fashioned washboard will get you by if no machine – or electricity – is available.

Wood Clothespins:  I almost forgot to mention the clothespins.  Cheap as all get out and imminently useful for lots of things.  Which reminds me that I need to write up an article on the many uses for clothespins in a survival situation!



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3 Responses to “Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew”

  1. If those grandmothers lived during the Depression, it’s a good guess that like my grandmothers, they didn’t use Fels-Naptha, they used good ole homemade lye soap. 🙂 I used to watch my grandmothers pull all the ingredients together w/o even making a trip to the store. 😉 Once in awhile even in my own backyard and the fires heating the cast iron cauldrons too. lol

  2. Gaye: I discovered this book not long ago, along with it’s companion volume “How to Build a Fire: And Other Handy Things Your Grandfather Knew”. Some really GREAT stuff in these two books.

    It makes me wish I had written down every single thing my Depression-era parents ever said to me.

    As always your reviews are spot on!

    • Gaye:
      I recently bought a pack of 50 clothes pins (the spring type) at Walmart of all places. They were under $2, I believe they were $1.50. Eight dollars is a bit much for clothes pins. I’ve seen them at the Dollar Tree also.
      I always keep a good supply of clothes pins around. I even use them to hold open the pages of my cookbooks.

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