Sew What?

by Kim on December 8, 2009

My Mom made all of our clothing. She purchased underwear and socks, but used her Singer sewing machine to stitch together everything else that we wore. It was the only way to cloth a family of 7 for under $10,000 a year. Our family “made do” in many areas to survive having little money (See: My Dad, the original organic gardener).

It was always a big family outing to go to the clothe store. We marched into the  store and always started by opening the large catalogs with all of the photos of models in  various finery. These books were more like wallpaper catalogs than the Sears and Roebucks variety. They were heavy, very large, and sometimes required two of my sisters to turn a page. They were on tall counters with stools underneath that tipped easily. We precariously balanced ourselves on the stools while choosing our next outfit. We had to use our imagination when perusing these catalogs as the finished product would not be the same as we viewed in the photos of the models. The material we would chose was the mystery ingredient. Hondo Crouch, the Texas journalist who started Luckenbach, Texas called himself an imagineer. We were definitely “imagineering” when we designed our next school outfit.

The quilt Mom made for me

After choosing a pattern that we “imagineered” would suit ourselves (pause for pun . . .), we would write down the pattern number, and then proceed to very large drawers that contained the actual patterns. We picked our size from these heavy drawers, deciphered how many yards of fabric we needed, and then marched off to the fabric aisles. If we found a desirable bolt of material, we would pick it up and carrying it around to show Mom. Imagine a 9-year-old carrying around several bolts of fabric that were almost as long as we were tall. We received much help from the fabric store employees during this process. In retrospect, they were probably trying to preserve the contents of their store.

It was a complicated ordeal process, compounded by having 4 of us vying for our mother’s attention all at the same time. We gave the list of how many yards we needed of each fabric bolt to the store employee, then proceeded to  pick out buttons, thread and zippers as needed. It was a day’s work to get it all collated at the fabric store. It was several weeks work for my mother after we returned home. I don’t believe that she enjoyed sewing all that much. It was an activity that was necessary for our family.

Prom dress - made by Mom and me

Unlike taking my children shopping and coming home to have them try on everything, we had to wait a number of weeks to try on our new outfits. Usually we tried them on several times before they were completely finished. We had our own personal tailor – Mom – who made adjustments for fit all along the way. We learned early to sew buttons on, put in a hem, and eventually learned the whole process so that we could make our own clothing. In high school, I didn’t go shopping with friends to find my homecoming dress. Instead, I visited the fabric store and purchased the makings for the ideal outfit. There were some mistakes along the way, but when you make your own clothing, you can’t take it back if it doesn’t fit. You just figure out how to fix it or just live with it. Thanks goodness the 70’s were wild with patterns and colors. Some of our mistakes were not so noticeable.

In the fall of 1976, I left for college, my brother moved to Arkansas, and my younger sister got married. My mother’s household went from 7 to 4 instantly. Her workload was reduced immensely and I think it was a shocking, but welcomed,  change. She suddenly had some time on her hands after years of making our clothes and canning all our food. And she had yards of leftover fabric from her sewing adventures over the years. She started quilting.

My clock dress - Made by Mom

I received a quilt from Mom for Christmas the first year of my marriage. It was a patchwork quilt containing all of the material that made up my clothes from my childhood. I loved it! Each square brought back a memory of years past. My favorite was a block that had different clocks in the 12-inch squares. Each clock had a different time on it. I remembered my dress from age 6 and using that dress to learn to tell time. I laughed to see the material from the 70’s contained in the quilt. Paisley and pastel polka-dots were definitely from the 70s era. My plaid homecoming suit – worn on a homecoming date with Paul – was another memory. My mother helped me finish the suit in time for the dance – I had trouble with getting the zipper sewn in correctly.

My mother made her quilts like she lived her life. She took whatever scraps were available and stitched them together as best she could.  This quilt from my mother gave me comfort and warmed me with memories of her love for me in my childhood. It was appropriate that this quilt was made of pieces of my childhood memories. Being loved still brings me a richness to life that nothing else can bring. I have my memory quilt to prove it.

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