Sunday, October 4, 2015

I remember sewing.


So I saw a Facebook post about someone whose sewing machine broke and she was going into withdrawal.  And I got to thinking about Mom. 

I do not remember Mom sewing much before she got the Necci Elna in the mid to late 50’s. I remember the salesman pitching the machine with free sewing lessons for anyone in the family nodding at me.  Little did I know that I would not touch the machine for a good 30 years.  That particular sewing machine came with a knee peddle and all sorts of plastic gears and knobs to make different stitches.  During that time the only sewing machine I ever touched was my Grandma Horn’s old manual Singer sewing machine and the one electric machine provided in my one attempt in the Home Economics class at Parkview Junior High school. More about that later.

Mom’s sewing efforts in my youth consisted of tailoring Dad’s work pants.  One leg was about one inch shorter on one side so she evened up the pant legs.  My dress of choice (by choice I mean Mom’s choice of fabric and style) consisted of shirt waste dresses with a zipper opening on the side or buttons in the front and the fabric was usually Dan River cottons.   Don’t know if that fabric is even made anymore, probably not as it was American manufacture.  Dan River cottons almost didn’t require ironing just a touch up.  And I ironed my dresses and anything else in the basket down to a certain colored towel.  So each year Mom would make me three to five new dresses.  This was usually preceded by purchasing the material and she would prewash it and I got to help hold onto as she stretched the washed material.  That was torture, as I would invariably NOT hold onto the edges adequately as we tortured the material into a roughly oblong shape.   Then she would pin and cut the pattern….and had to try it on for fit and hemming, “Stand up straight! Or the hem will be crooked!”.

Back to sewing.  My HomeEc class taught sewing and the end of year project was, surprise, surprise, a shirtwaist dress.  I worked on that thing for weeks.  Finally I brought it home to be washed as there was going to be a fashion show at school.  Mom looked at the dress, screamed, ripped it apart, sewed it back together to her specifications and I wore it to school once for the fashion show and uh I think something fatal happened to it fairly soon afterwards. 

One dress that I wish I still had and fit into was my eighth grade graduation dress.  It was black and white polka dot cotton with black trim.  The neckline was squared in the front and back with a black crisscross bit in the back.  Very sharp.  Of course it was nothing like what everyone else was wearing and being different is death amongst your peers at that age, so I hated the dress then but in perspective it was rather striking.  I shouldn’t have been such a little shit.

Then there were the quilts:  Mom used to have a quilting frame and C-clamps to adjust the frame.  Occasionally she would sew a quilt and it was a genuine party when she would get the top, batting and quilt bottom all pinned together.  None of these were ever hand quilted, the method used to fasten these quilts together consisted of a giant needle threading yarn through the quilt pieces, cutting and tying the yarn in the middle and edges of each quilt block.  This would take a couple of days and I did like cutting and tying the yarn into knots.  Grandma Horn quilted like this.  Great Grandma Lattimer hand quilted her tops.  Mom kept her birthday quilt top for over sixty years before she put it together and it is a beautiful thing preserved in a special archival box and papers waiting to enhance some of our descendant’s homes.

Permanent Press:  Came into being shortly after I graduated and left home.  My three younger sisters um suffered through endless dresses and all of those left over pieces went into quilts.  Those quilts have held up like old ironsides over the years.  My quilt top is still hanging in there, it needs new batting and cotton bottom so I have more or less archived it to decorate the top of my lovely Waterfall style wardrobe, lovely.  To my knowledge the girls went all natural fiber after an eternity of polyester during their youth.

One of the last things Mom ever sewed for me was my wedding dress in 1970.  I asked her to sew it for me, then I lived in San Rafael, California and we consulted over the phone to Emmett, Idaho.  It consisted of a armless satin sheath with a simple armless lace topper.  I wish I still fit into that.  That dress and marriage did not fare so well.  But it wasn’t bad for a starter marriage. 

When I came back to Idaho, one of the first major appliances I purchased was a sewing machine.  I didn’t want one like Mom’s.  One of my friends who had become a social worker for the state told me the brand used in the state rehab facilities (Husqvarna) so I got one of those figuring if they could use, I could use it.  It has lasted me well right up to this day.  I don’t sew all that much anymore other than to trim a hem and hand sew something needing repair. Go figure.

The weird thing is that over the years, Mom initially started sewing for her entire family as a cost savings because clothes were so expensive and fabric and patterns were cheap.  That has almost completely reversed since those days in the global economy.  It used to be I could purchase fabric, a pattern and sew myself an outfit for twelve dollars.  Now? Not so much.

And when I was a kid there was no such thing as a charity resale shop unless it was Salvation Army and we snooty Berglund’s would not be caught dead wearing such.  However, not too long ago, I shopped a genuine Versace blouse in my local resale shop for six bucks.  Hah! Take that Project Runway!!
And if anyone is interested, Phil has the Necci Elna.
PS: Just in case anyone forgot, all of the above happened with lots of yelling.