The Longest Strongest Thread

Published on: 05 April 2020 Author: Inbal Leitner

Author and illustrator Inbal Leitner writes about how a sewing studio kept her connected to her grandmother when she moved to the UK from Israel, and the winding threads that keep families together across the world.

I love arriving in new places, where you discover unfamiliar tastes, hear new languages, and get to know new cities and nature; it is all very exciting to explore and discover. I also like meeting new people and making new friends! What I less like about moving is leaving loved ones behind and being far away from them.

This is what happened to me when I moved to the UK from Israel a few years ago; I found myself missing my family and friends and wishing they could be around.

One person I miss a lot is my grandmother. Yes - I have a grandmother, who is a great grandmother to my children. As a child, I loved going to her sewing studio, making things there, looking for the shiniest buttons, sifting through all the special tools and learning how she made dresses, jackets and even soft toys.

Missing her, and seeing my children missing our family, I asked myself - what would I do if I were still a child and had to leave Grandma? That is how this book was born. I started by drawing my childhood memories from my grandmother’s sewing studio. How, whenever I came to visit her, she would take an oversized dress or a nice fabric, measure me, calculate numbers, draw, cut, attach pins and sit at the sewing machine. And then - magic happened - the needle and thread would run through the fabric and I would get a beautiful new dress made especially for me with lots of love.

Going back to the strong memories of the sewing studio, I decided to think of things I could have made by myself to keep in touch with Grandmother. I dived into drawers filled with sewing tools, fabrics, buttons, sewing booklets, needles, threads and found out that any distance could be covered with a winding thread. Threads and needles have the ability to connect and attach separate pieces to each other. If the thread is strong enough, the pieces can stick together for years.

I then took different sewing objects out of the sewing studio into my art studio to inspire me in the making of the illustrations. (The setting of the studio, as I remember it from my childhood even appears in the book.)

Using printmaking techniques I inked fabrics and printed them, one on top of the other and in combination with the characters. I used warm yellow, and colder blues and greys, to visually describe the move from a warm country to the place where the lakes freeze in winter.

While making the book I thought a lot about ways people can stay in touch when they are far away from each other, and how nowadays we have so much technology that can help to shorten that distance.

My grandmother herself moved away from home as a teenager. Back then, you could only send letters to family and friends, and then only get an answer a few weeks later. Thinking about my grandma and, in general, about the difficulty a young child has to fully understand the meaning of being very far away from family, I tried to articulate some of the fears and questions that naturally arise when one leaves home, and to offer solutions that may overcome or sooth these concerns. The fears of the girl in the book also reflect my grandmother’s experience; at the age of 16 she moved to a new place, leaving her parents and sister behind. Shortly afterwards, WW2 broke out and she never saw them again.

Whatever one’s age is, and no matter which way we choose to stay in touch with our family and friends, nothing can replace a real warm hug. The grandma in the story doesn’t talk, but I know she agrees with me on that. No wonder she chooses to give her granddaughter the warmest hug she could actually make by herself, one that her granddaughter can carry with her wherever she may go.

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