Friday, March 4, 2016

Hope Chest Interview: Rozann Thoelke

In a second post to celebrate Women's History Month, I want to introduce you to Rozann Thoelke, a faithful reader of the blog who had a hope chest as a young woman. I have such a curiosity about how this hope chest tradition worked in the lives of other girls. Rozann graciously consented to answer a long list of my questions about her hope chest and her feelings about that activity. I hope you enjoy reading her thoughts as much as I did! Thank you so much Rozann!

Q – How were you introduced to the concept of a hope chest?
A – My mother had a beautiful Lane cedar chest that she had used as a hope chest before she got married, and as a repository for keepsakes after she got married. I grew up with the idea that we girls (I have a sister seven years older) prepared for marriage and homemaking by saving things in a chest.

Q – Did you take to the idea?
A – Yes! I wanted to be a wife, mother, and homemaker for as long as I can remember.

Q – When did you begin actively working on your hope chest?
A – I never really actively made or gathered things for my hope chest until I was in my late teens when I began to have my own money. Before that it was simply an idea that before I got married I would put away things I might need to keep nice until I needed them.

Q – During the time you worked on your hope chest, were any of your friends or other girls in the community actively working on a hope chest?
A – Not really. Most of my girlfriends were more actively working towards going to college. Marriage was something they wanted, but it was after they had done many other things. I graduated from high school in 1975 so this was the era of “women’s lib” and breaking off the shackles of being stuck at home as a housewife.

Q – Was there a feeling of support from friends? Was there any friendly rivalry?
A – No we didn’t make things together, if fact, I sort of downplayed the fact that I didn’t want to go to college or have a career, other than the career of homemaker, so there was no rivalry, but there was sometimes good-natured teasing about my desires.

Q – Can you remember the time that the idea of hope chests waned and then disappeared from your community? Why do you think it became less valued?
A – As I mentioned previously, I came of age during the seventies. My older sister was probably the last generation to have hope chests. She graduated in 1968, and I remember many of her friends also had hope chests, but I don’t know that any of mine did. I believe that the interest waned as the idea of marriage and family was denigrated and the idea of college and careers for women took over. Which is a sad thing, because whether or not we marry, we still make a home, and have a need of linens, dishes, etc.

Q – What was your motivation for working on a hope chest?
A – My goal in life was to marry and raise a large family. I knew from growing up in such a family (six children, not large except by the world’s standards) that I would need things. I knew from seeing my sister get married (at age 19) that many things are given as gifts at the wedding, so I wasn’t very worried about not having things, but I wanted to be prepared regardless.

Q – How did you stay motivated?
A – Well, the fact that it is called a “hope” chest gives a clue. I called the things I gathered and made my “articles of faith”. I didn’t marry until I was thirty, so it took a lot of faith to believe that God would bless me with the righteous desires of my heart. I served a mission and experienced living in an apartment or trailer with the barest of necessities and knew that I didn’t want to live like that when I had my own place. When I was about 25 I moved out of my parent’s home and lived on my own. This was when I truly began gathering things. Some I used immediately and some I saved for later.

Q – Did you have a plan or method behind your work?
A – Heavens no! I didn’t really have anyone to guide me. My mother didn’t have a plan so she simply gave me things occasionally. I gathered and made rather haphazardly.

Q – If you had a plan, did you feel like your hope chest was “completed” or did you run out of time?
A – I actually burst out laughing when I read this question. I didn’t run out of time by any means. I do regret not having a plan, because when I finally did get married and began a family I discovered huge gaps, and a difference in teen/young adult fantasy vs. family realities.

Q – What kinds of things did you include in your hope chest?
A – I had some kitchen linens such as dish towels, hot pads, place mats, a couple of bath towels (which are still being used!), table cloths, an apron, dishes, stainless silverware set (I know that sounds contradictory, but you know what I mean), Tupperware, serving bowls, juice carafes, cookbooks, and such. (I can’t remember everything.)

Q – Can you remember the first thing you made, and do you still have it?
A – Yes, and yes. The first thing I made was in Primary, if you remember the cross stitched sampler that says “I will bring the light of the gospel into my home.” That was the first thing I made and I still have it. The next year we learned how to knit and I have the first two little things I made, a hot pad and a coin purse. 

 Q – Describe the actual chest. Was it big enough? What did you use for excess?
A – My parents have several gifting traditions, one of which is giving a Lane cedar chest as a high school graduation present. We got to choose the style and they bought it. I chose a very plain, un-ornamented chest. I used it for all my linens. The dishes, etc. I kept in boxes in a closet. If I had been collecting what I truly needed, the cedar chest would not have been big enough. Nowadays I use Sterilite plastic totes to store things in, such as out of season clothes, bedding, and such. Those totes would be perfect for a hope chest.

Q – If you had to buy an actual hope chest now, what would be the most important factor in your choice?
A – I prefer timeless, or classic furniture styles. My mother’s hope chest is very typical of her era, as is my older sister’s; but I don’t think mine can be dated. It is simple and classic. We are using it currently to hold our flatscreen TV. Works great! The most important factor would be thinking of how you would use the chest later. I actually have two cedar chests, the second one was purchased second hand from a girl who was selling things to go to graduate school. I use both of them to store important fabric (sewn or knit or quilted) keepsakes and heirlooms.

Q – Where did you find resources, such as patterns, materials or supplies to help your efforts at creating items for your hope chest?
A – My mother was a great resource. She sewed, quilted, knit and did all sorts of interesting things. After I learned to knit she taught me how to make the bias knitted dishcloths, which she had learned from her mother. I had learned to sew in a summer class between seventh and eighth grades. My mother would buy me patterns and fabric and I would sew clothes with her helping me learn any new techniques. Occasionally I would use the scraps to make things like throw pillows. Mom bought flour in 25 lb. cloth bags and we used those bags to make dish towels. I learned to crochet from a boyfriend I had before I went on my mission. He had learned from a missionary companion of his who learned from his mother. When I got home from my mission I crocheted an afghan for my hope chest.

     Now I frequent thrift stores and buy up lovely things that others discard. I prefer real linen dish towels, and old fashioned embroidered dresser scarves and doilies. They can be had for next to nothing and I can enjoy beautiful handwork without actually doing the work! There is usually a tote full of yarn, many times full skeins, that can be used for projects. And if you’re looking for a way to save on fabric, here are my ways. Let the ladies at church know you are looking for fabric. Many times older women, the older grandmas, no longer sew but still have a substantial stash that they are willing to share with someone who will put it to good use. Look at the thrift stores, not only for “fabric”, but at the bed and table linens; I look for 100% cotton sheets, and 100% cotton flannel sheets (for use in making pjs, or quilts). I’ve used cloth shower curtains for table cloths, and sheets for curtains, placemats, pillow cases, and lots of other things. I’ve also used a lovely tablecloth with a hole in it to make wonderful damask cloth napkins. I think thrift stores are a treasure house of materials to be used, reused, recycled, or upcycled.

Q – Did you have any support for your efforts? I’m thinking in terms of learning skills, financial help with supplies or even outright gifts from other people.
A – In addition to what I said previously (above), my parents gave me a complete twelve place setting set of fine china when I was eighteen, to be stored until I got married, as it was a wedding present. We lived in San Diego, a naval base, and knew men in the Navy who traveled to Japan on assignment. Buying the set in Japan was about a third of the cost so she had someone get her a set, my older sister a set, and then me a set. At one time I received a small inheritance from an unmarried uncle, my mother’s brother; with that money I bought a couple of pieces of furniture. One was a beautiful curio cabinet, about five feet high. It was unfinished so my dad helped me choose a stain and finish the cabinet. I used that to hold all my pretty serving dishes and souvenirs from my travels. I loved that piece of furniture! Unfortunately, it didn’t survive our four sons. The curved glass in the door and one of the sides got broken and would have cost more to replace than I had paid for the piece originally. We were not able to afford that extravagance so I got rid of it during one of our moves. (My husband served 26 years active duty in the Marines.)

Q – Were any of your skills self-taught?
A - No, as I said before, my mother was very accomplished in all the needle arts and she taught me many things. Along the way I’ve also learned or perfected skills from other women in Relief Society. Currently I see a dearth of homemaking skills practiced and taught to the younger generations. It makes me sad; and sometimes worried about who our sons will marry. I really want our grandchildren raised by a mother who knows how to be a homemaker.

Q – Did you use the items in your hope chest? Were you reluctant to use any of them?
A – Yes! I have used all the items in my hope chest. Although I will admit that for some years I was reluctant to use some of my prettiest pillow cases that were gifts or heirlooms. But I have come to the conclusion that things are made to be used and we can’t take them with us so we might as well enjoy them and get full use out of them. I have used the items in my home to beautify it and make it a welcoming place.

Q – Which item were you most proud of creating or acquiring?
A – I don’t know if I can answer what I’m most proud of; I can say what I’ve used the most or has been most useful to me. I bought two large bath sheets at a mill outlet in North Carolina on a trip through there when I was 19. We have used those bath sheets the entire 27, almost 28 years of marriage. I wish I’d bought more of them! I also have regularly used some glass serving bowls and a set of luncheon or dessert plates that I bought at a “Princess Glass” home party when I was about 18.

Q – Did you ever have a negative feeling or experience related to your hope chest? How did you overcome that challenge?
A – I mentioned some teasing, by both my brothers and some of the girls at church. I just ignored them and quietly went on my way. I knew that someday God would answer my prayers to be married and have a family and I was going to be ready for that day.

Q – Can you identify ways having a hope chest helped you?
A – I think the biggest help was in focusing on showing God, by my works, that I had faith that I would marry and have a family. Faith without works is dead, and I wanted to show God that I had faith in His promises to me (in a Patriarchal blessing) that I would someday marry and be a mother. Secondarily, I learned skills of sewing, knitting, etc. that have blessed our family. I watch girls who are so involved with sports and other activities that they neglect preparing to be homemakers. In twenty seven years of marriage I have never once needed to know how to play a sport; but I have needed to put meals on the table three times a day, every day! And I’ve needed to know how to sew to make the Halloween costumes our children have requested over the years. I’ve needed the skills to make items for our use rather than buying them to be able to live on one income and be a true homemaker, the maker of a home.

     I do wish I’d begun with a specific plan, rather than the catch as catch can way I did things. I wish I’d put together half a dozen twin sized quilts, simply because by the time I had children who needed them we were homeschooling, and, unfortunately, unable to afford the time, space and materials necessary to make them. We had to make do with a hodge podge of bedding. I wish I’d made a dozen aprons, since I wear them every day. I will say this, though; tastes change. The colors, patterns, and styles I liked as a teen no longer appealed to me by the time I got married at age thirty. And who can foresee what color tiles are going to be in your kitchen or bath in twenty years? I think you are so wise to be providing Abigail with a variety of colors to work with. I wish I’d had that foresight.

     Another thing I wish I’d collected before I left home was the favorite family recipes. I had to spend a lot on long distance (in the olden days!) calling my mom to get a recipe or planning ahead and writing to her.

     One last thing. It is true that we are not all alike. My one daughter (almost 27) has never been interested in the homemaking arts like I was. She doesn’t sew or knit, she does a little bit of crochet in the form of a single stitch afghan. She isn’t interested in much cooking, though she loves to eat. Although she knows how to clean, she isn’t very diligent about it, always finding something more to her liking to do. I love her immensely, but have to accept that she just isn’t like me. She has other interests, strengths and desires.

Rozy was born and raised in San Diego, California. She served a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Tallahassee, Florida (1979-1980). Worked, traveled, and attended college until she met and married a Marine in 1988. They have five children, one daughter, age 26, and four sons, ages 25, 22, 19, 17. Rozy has traveled to 44 states and seven foreign countries. She has been a wife, mother and homemaker for the past (almost) 28 years. Besides her children, her personal accomplishments include having a story published in The Friend magazine, and speaking at a BYU Women’s Conference. She loves to read, sew, cook, knit, create, and encourage her children, who are now adults and among her best friends.

Rozy didn’t have a plan for her hope chest, or as she called it, her articles of faith, rather put things away as she acquired them, including linens, dishes, kitchen gear, and children’s books.

Thanks again Rozy!


  1. I am really interested in a couple of things Rozann mentions...I think it is interesting that she regrets not having a plan and wishes that she had known what she would need down the road. I had the same problem. I had a difficult time with my own hope chest because it was so haphazard. I may have to rethink my opinion on hope chest lists. I know people are interested in what ought to go into a hope chest. I also was struck that having someone with a little experience to guide you would make the work less haphazard, to borrow her phrase. Maybe my help for Miss Abigail is more important than I would have thought. I always worry a little that I'm too much of a tiger mom...

    I also LOVE Rozann's suggestion that we use thrifted fabrics and yarn for materials in hope chest projects. There really is such beautiful fabrics available to reuse. I make dishtowels from old linen tablecloths as well and the old retro printed cotton tablecloths. Love them! Really her suggestions for thrifting are genius!

    And the tip to let older ladies know you need fabric - I second that also! If you let the right people know about your hope chest project you'll get really valuable help, especially from older women who realize what you are trying to do.

    There is a wealth of really valuable information in Rozann's experience. I'm glad to know it.

  2. Thanks for the privilege of being interviewed! Finding your blog has been a blessing to me as it has given me ideas for a more organized way to help a daughter be ready to leave home. I can also see that I'll have fun making things with and for granddaughters as they come along. I'm really thankful for the friends I've made through the internet, it is a huge blessing, this miracle of technology!

  3. I enjoyed reading this post immensely! Thanks to both of you, Kathleen and Rozann, for very interesting questions and answers. I did not have a designated hope chest, but I had put some things away, and I had built a good skill set for homemaking. When I got my first apartment, it was my older sister who gifted me a 2 large laundry baskets filled with things she new were essential, and I've always loved her for that.

    I was interested, Rozan, to hear that your daughter did not share your interest in the homemaking arts. I was heartbroken when mine turned her nose up at every craft I tried to share with her as she grew up. But I have to say that as she has gotten older (38 now), she has become more interested...not so much in the handcraft work that I do, but in other things such as furniture refinishing, painting and decorating, cooking, and has even made some curtains and recently even expressed an interest in learning to knit. So don't give up hope yet! She has also given me two granddaughters who do enjoy crafting with Grandma! :)

    1. It may skip generations sometimes. My grandma makes (or used to make, she isn't as active anymore as she used to be...) bobbin lace. I've learned some of her equipment comes from the previous grandma generation. And now it's me being interested in it...

  4. My mother in law also gave me a large laundry basket full of wonderful things when I married her son! It has been such a blessing. There were two sets of seven dishtowels, three or four sets of embroidered pillowcases, a quilt, kitchen pantry items like spices. There were all kinds of things in there...I loved it and loved her for doing it.

  5. What a fun interview to read! So much good advice. Thanks to you both!

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  7. I've found this through Rozann's link on another blog. :-)
    It's quite an interesting practice for me - I'm Czech, and we don't have a term for this. Rozann hits exactly on why this is a useful practice (no matter what your plans for the future, you will most likely start your own household one day!) and what's so wonderful about the term hope chest - the reason one of my sisters has taken it up herself, even though she doesn't have a literal chest. (I am, if anything, using the British term, because it literally describes what I have - a bottom drawer.)
    It seems like most people go about it without a plan, indeed. The two of us are living together now, and, interestingly, the one thing we've found out we had not thought of and really sorely missed to begin with was - kitchen knives! We only had one small knife (a paring knife?) that we had to do everything we needed a sharp knife for with. (Plus my Swiss Army knife... :D) And whenever I see people talking about their hope chests, this crucial part of cooking equipment is also usually left out of it. A good chef's knife would therefore now go on my list of things recommended to go into a hope chest!


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