Sewing, being stylish, and decorating were/are the arenas in which my mother showed her creativity...strutted her stuff! When I was growing up, my mother sewed all of my, my sister's, and her clothes. She also made suits for my brother until he went to middle school.
On Saturdays after going to Soulard Market in South St. Louis and getting fresh vegetables, my mother, aunt and grandmother would go to the fabric store. I remember her looking through the pattern books - and for fabric, scouring the remnant bins. They would also go to Goodwill and the Salvation Army Thrift store and find clothes that would often be refashioned or scavenged for materials, buttons and trims.
Our dining room doubled as the sewing room. There were dozens of spools of threads, yards of fabric and the zippers, bobbins, rick-rack, pins, tape measures, chalk, etc. that complete outfits. I used to have to dig through the button jar to find matching buttons for particular outfits. I often had to press open seams so they would lay flat. We had an ironing board and a sleeve board and a soda bottle with holes punched in the bottle cap that I would fill with water to sprinkle the clothes before they were ironed.
I never learned to sew. I wasn't particularly gifted with my hands and liked to read more than anything else. When I was younger, my mom would "show me how to do something" and next thing I knew, she had sewn the entire garment. When I was older, I wouldn't allow myself to be in to what she was into. Besides, having had hand-sewn clothes all of my life, I wanted store-bought finery. Silly girl. She did make me current fashions - a metallic mini-dress with matching coat for my junior prom (I looked fierce in it!) and, when I came from college and everyone was wearing mod-coats and long skirts, she made those as well.
How I wish I could sew. My mother doesn't sew as much as she used to, arthritis has slowed her down so she doesn't make new outfits every single week, like she did when I was growing up She still struts her talent every now and then - making fabulous outfits for my niece's American Girl doll, a quilt and a car seat cover for her great granddaughter, and making a copy of a shawl she saw in Lord & Taylor that cost too much. It was a sheer stole with sequins in it and she made it for a fraction of the orginal's cost.
Growing up, my mother made hats, suits (she took tailoring lessons), curtains, reupholstered and refinished furniture, dyed shoes when she couldn't find quite the right color, embroidered, crocheted and knitted. She even made a wedding dress once, painstakingly hand-sewing the lace trim on the train. She would whip up a dress or new curtains or a pillow-cover in a minute. She had the style and the abundance of Jackie Onassis and Imelda Marcos on a working-class budget.
The outfits she sewed were visible evidence of her love, her fierce determination that her girls would look as good as anyone else, and her way of making a way out of no way because "just because we were poor didn't mean we were going to look it, act it or think it!" There were unspoken rivalries between the families at church - who dressed the finest, who went the longest before repeating an outfit, etc. We often won hands-down.
I shake my head in wonder at her stamina when I think of all she did while also working outside of the house and doing all the sewing, cooking, and "pressing hair" that she did. I wish I had understood at the time how invaluable this particular skill was. I should have sucked up every bit of technique that I could. I have come to deeply admire the skill I somewhat took for granted. All of the women in my family from my mother's generation and before, sewed. My mother, however, was hands-down the most skilled of them all. (I guess I thought I would learn by osmosis.) She and I are addicted to the reality series, Project Runway, and call each other to commiserate on the competition each year. If she had been a competitor back-in-the-day, she would have won hands-down and, with her Leo roaring that she's known for, would have been one of their most colorful competitors.
Thank you Ma, for your fabulous creativity and abiding love. Sorry I didn't respect it more and learn from you when I could.
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