My mom sewed for me, and both of my sisters. In the 60's, girls weren't allowed to wear pants to school. We wore cotton dresses, with gathered skirts, button-up backs, pockets, rick-rack, and bow back ties. She liked to add crisp white collars, and cuffs, which were always snapped on, so she could wash them separately. She liked dark plaids for the start of school in September, but hounds tooth plaids, and cotton pique for spring. The process of sewing a dress was the same for as long as I can remember, and involved me, and my sisters, brought along to shop for fabric in the dimly lit local department store, where she carefully evaluated the bolts of fabric. We twirled on the tall stools at the pattern counter, while she paged through heavy pattern books.
My little sisters were so bored and impatient, they would lie down in the store aisle, whining, " Can't we go home yet?" Once we had the happy entertainment of our cat, just retrieved from the vet, and still groggy, that we carried around in a cake pan we'd just bought at the dime store across the street.
With patterns and fabrics selected, she used to lay out the fabrics on the carpeted floor of the living room, pinning them out and cutting carefully. She had pair of dressmakers Wiss scissors which were never, ever to cut paper! Finally the day arrived when the dress was finished. Wearing it for the first time was so exciting. Who would notice? I felt like a new, special person, sitting in the 4th grade of Miss Dankowski. Sometimes, my mom made us a set of 3 "sister" dresses for each of her three girls. Often, when she sewed a dress for me, she'd sew another little matching one out of the sewing scraps, for my Ginny doll, with pockets!
She sewed in her bedroom, on the old, black, Singer, with gold filigree, that was her mother's. An electric pedal modified the old treadle machine, but it was the same one that was in her own mother's bedroom at the foot of the bed, where she slept with her mother. "No, my father didn't sleep with my mother then. They already had 4 children, and didn't have any other way to be sure they wouldn't get another one." Before she was 40 years old, when my mother was just 8 years old, her mother died.
My mother and her sister, Marion, who was 2 yrs older than she, had to learn to do a lot of housekeeping in a short time. Pa, and her two older brothers were still home, and her mother's sister came to help. But, much of the housework eventually fell to the girls. "Thank goodness for the neighbor lady who showed me how to cook," my auntie Marion told me. My mother said it was her job to start the cook stove fire, and Marion would cook.
My mother taught herself to sew, and knit. Later, she became a weaver.
"The neighbors used to say, 'Give those Peterson girls a piece of leather, and they'll make you a pair of shoes', " my mom told me, with a little pride. I'd look down at my own scuffed, patent leather slip ons that I had cried to get, instead of saddle shoes in the shoe store, with a new sense of wonder. How could I "make" a pair of shoes? I firmly believed my mother could have.
Our school dresses were sewn and hemmed, and worn, and ripped and repaired, and washed, starched, ironed, and hung back in our closets, by my mother. I remember calling to her, in the morning, when I was getting dressed for school, "Can I wear the blue dress with rick-rack?" My mother, who liked to sleep in, called back sleepily from her bedroom across the hall, "No, not yet. Just wear the one you wore yesterday. I just ironed the blue one." Apparently my mother liked to admire a freshly washed, ironed dress in my closet for at least a day before it went back into use.
I remember putting on my dress, and going in to sit on the side of her bed, so she could button up the
back, without leaving her bed. I could tie my own dress ties behind my back, as soon as I learned to tie my shoes.
I learned from my mother there's no shame to sleeping in. She also showed me how not to give in to fear, whether it was the Abominable Snowman that plagued my thoughts, trying to fall asleep at night, boys who bullied me at school, or the Cuban Missile Crisis. My mother refused to be scared. She loved to make things, and sewed clothes, drapes, upholstery, tailored dresses. She treasured fabrics, and collected the best of them. She loved French Vogue patterns. She made exquisite bound button holes.
She had married, instead of going to college, which always bothered her. "Education is like a pair of pants," she quoted something she'd read to me, "if you're wearing them you, don't notice it, but if you're not, you really miss them." She read so much. We hated to see her start to read a book. She'd disappear for hours, and would barely hear us if we asked about supper. Supper was likely to be hard boiled eggs. For the record, my mother never liked to cook.
When I can push back fear, or offer something to someone who I see can use my help, or when I stand up for someone who can't stand up for themselves, I know I learned this from her. When I feel pleased and excited with something I've just taken off my loom, I know I'm like her. She showed me how, if I decide to, I can learn to do anything I want for myself. Also, when I'm in a hard place, the only thing to do is to make the best of it.
Mom, you're still making the best of it.