Thursday, May 17, 2012

Mrs. W's Gray Wool Skirt

When I was about 12, I fell in love with a gray wool skirt.  My mother thought it was all about the boy down the block, but she was wrong.

There was a woman who lived across the alley from us who had three sons.  One was about 15 or so, very quiet, kind of cute.  He had two younger brothers who played with my younger brothers.  This woman, Mrs. W., was a friend of my mom's.  She knew how to sew.  She used to bring her projects over sometimes and work on hand work while my mom and she talked and drank coffee.

I remember the first time I saw the winter coats she was making for the two younger boys as if it were last week.  The one coat was burgundy wool with a black sealskin hood lining.  The other was brown with a sheepskin lining.

But the most wonderful thing she was working on was a gray pleated skirt.  I think it was just wool, but to my mind it was the most wonderful fabric I had ever seen!

At the time I was wearing mostly cotton dresses and nylon sweaters to school.  In fact most of the things I wore were hand-me-downs from an older cousin.  Nice things, but ordinary. 

I lusted after that gray wool!

Mrs. W. invited me to come to her house and watch her put it together.  I remember how she steamed in the pleats.  The iron gave off clouds of moisture as she pumped the steam button.  Fabulous!  And her stitching melted into the fabric.  When she lifted off the press cloth I was amazed at how beautiful the seams looked.  She finished them all off with an overcast stitch -- remember, this was WAY before sergers!

She was explaining to me how she kept her scissors very sharp and never let anyone use them for anything.  Men, she said, would cut the craziest things and just ruin your edge!  Keep your scissors locked up and sharp, she said!

Suddenly my mother was at the door.  She said it was time to come home, and I'm sure she was thinking that I was there drooling over Phillip, who was in the living room watching something dumb on TV.  Probably Ed Sullivan or something.

I knew better than to argue.  Mrs. W. gave me a little pile of wool scraps to take with me.  My mom didn't say much on the walk across the alley, but I could tell she was not happy.

How could I explain the hold that wool had over me?  What chance did a 15 year old boy have against one of the most beautiful and beautifully made garments I had ever seen??  None, I tell you!  And that night I dreamed about a gray wool skirt with a perfect pale pink twin set and a strand of pearls.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012


This past weekend was Mother's Day.  My children and grandchildren came to visit and we had a good time.  But after they were gone, I realized how much I missed my own mother.  She would have enjoyed the day I had with all the people running around, laughing and talking.  And she loved kids, especially small ones.

Mom died in 1998 at the young age of 66.  She suffered from Alzheimers disease for at least four years before that, with her short term memory fading away over time.  So in reality I was losing her for a long time before she died.

Some time in 2009 I was doing an exercise in self-image for a class I was taking.  You had to write down all of the things you had accomplished in your life.  After we did our lists he reminded us how much others had assisted in those processes. 

At that same time, I started writing down things that I learned from various people.  I had a wonderful set of grandparents, some super aunts and uncles (one most particularly -- more on that later), and then there was my Mom.

These are some things she used to say to us regularly.  I call them Mom-isms.  And they're just as true today as they were when she last said them.
Last weekend was Mother's Day.  While I was joy-filled to have my children and grandchildren around me, I missed my own mother. 
  • Captain Kangaroo was right, and please and thank you ARE magic words.  Use them!
  • If you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all. 
  • You don't need fancy clothes to look nice.  But whatever you‟re wearing, make sure it's clean and neat.
  • Call or send flowers to people who are alive.  When they're gone they don't care how many you send to their funerals.
  • Wash your hands before you hold a baby.
  • Don't frown, it makes wrinkles.
  • You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.
  • Use your head for something besides holding up your hair.
  • Damn is not God's last name!
  • Nobody ever said life was fair.
  • Crying washes out your eyeballs.

Well, Mom, I still miss you.  Life isn't fair or you'd still be here.  And I washed my eyes out today just thinking about you.

If your mother is still around, call her.  You know she worries.

Monday, May 14, 2012

My Early Sewing Days

Do you ever have the opportunity to meet with people who love to sew as much as you do and share memories of how you learned?  Or even share that information with people who DON'T sew?

When I started this blog I made a list of topics I could write about.  I must have pinned it to the bulletin board too insecurely, because I found it tonight while I was cleaning the desk. 

The note says:
  • Mrs. D sewed a suit for Gail
  • Mrs. W's gray wool skirt
  • Mrs. H's blouse
  • White wool coat
  • Fabric shopping
  • Jean jacket/batik remake
So are those topics ringing any bells with you?  No, huh?  OK, I promise over the next five or six days to explain how each of those topics inspired me to want to learn to sew.

Topic 1:  Mrs. D sewed a suit for Gail

My sister Gail is a few years younger than I am.  We're separated by three brothers born between, and three more followed her.  We were too far apart in age to be close when we were growing up.  So this may contain just a little bit of envy for the way the story unfolded.

We lived in a fairly rural area when I was in elementary school.  There was a one room school and lots of families with multiple kids.  There was one lady my mom became friends with, and this lady had lost a daughter to some grave illness. 

The lady had sewn lovely clothes for her daughter, and wanted to do something nice for my mother, who had all these kids and not much money for nice things.  She offered to make over a darling little suit and since I was already older than her daughter had been, I was too big.  So she made over a little plaid skirt and jacket for my sister who was about three or four at the time.

This is as close as I can come to what I remember Mrs. D making.  Nobody dresses their kids like this anymore!

We went to the lady's house so Gail could have a fitting, just like at a real dressmaker or department store.  I remember being envious of the way she had to stand on the chair and get the hem pinned up.  The fabric of that suit was some gorgeous wool blend that had to be washed by hand.

I don't remember my sister wearing that outfit more than a couple of times.  Who these days would put a wool blend, hand washable suit on a toddler?  Sticky fingers, catsup, dirt, ugh!!  And the tot probably would not even be able to play properly in it!  But it was fine for church and maybe a visit to our paternal grandmother, who never let us play at her house anyway!

But the real take-away from this memory is that fabric!  It was a very rich deep burgundy with some tiny lines of navy and dark green for the plaid, or at least it is in my memory...

Again... as close as I can get to that memory.  This plaid is too large but the color is right.

and I was deeply impressed by the workmanship and tailoring that went into making this garment fit, even on a toddler.  I couldn't have been more than 8 or 9 at the time, and I was bitten by the garment sewing bug right then and there.

Do you have a memory of the first fabric that caught your eye?  Leave a comment if you do!