Coffee with Mimi: Cutting and sewing
By MIMI BECKER
When I went off to first grade, my mom made me several very special dresses. I did have a couple new ones ordered, I’m fairly sure, from Sears and Roebuck, but I knew very early on in my life that if you wanted it to be special, Mom would have made it.
To be sure, historically, home sewing was often a function of necessity. Many people lived too far from shopping opportunities. The time involved in accessing ready made clothing was possibly more than the time to make the item yourself. Often, quality ready made was more expensive than homemade.
If a family had considerable means, they had someone sew for them. The men had a tailor, the women and children had a seamstress. Handmade, in that case, was a sign of privilege.
By the time I was of school age, thanks to the convenience of mail order and modern transportation, an average family could have nice, well made clothing at hand, and not Mom’s.
But, in my memory, when Mom made a dress, housecoat, pajamas or playset, you could be sure it was well constructed and nice. It was better than you could order from the catalogs. Mom gave each item a little special touch. She perhaps would have embroidered a little something on the pocket, or monogrammed a jumper. I remember one gorgeous cranberry wool dress that was not only monogrammed in pink with my initials, but had three rows of tucking at the hem stitched in pink accented with a pearl-pink button at the side seam on each row of tucking.
When I was in early elementary school, my family moved into a new house which my Dad had designed. It was well balanced in design and had not one square inch of wasted space. We had a large family. Upstairs, there were two bathrooms and five additional rooms all opening off of a central hallway.
Originally, one of the upstairs rooms was a small den with a TV. Mom and Dad’s bedroom would be classified as a master suite with plenty room for a sitting area when it was time to escape the children. There was a master bathroom, but even that had a door into the hallway, as well as the door into their bedroom.
Now that I am in a different phase of my life and look back, probably the most forward thinking space was Mom’s sewing room. It was right next to the laundry area and was used for all things clothing related; folding, ironing and sewing. It was completely dedicated to those tasks and, at the end of the day, the door could be closed. It was the place where projects could be laid out and left until completed. There was a big wardrobe for storage, a table for working, space for the ironing board and a place to sit to watch progress.
I learned to sew while we lived in that house. I was about ten years old and, under the instruction of my Mom, I actually made things. Not just little craft items, real clothes to wear. I remember a couple goofy items; one of which was a simple shift. Iit was the mid ‘60’s after all. It wasn’t the shift part that was remarkable, it had this crazy decoration on the front called a “Gonk”. I can only imagine how it really looked, but thinking back, I’m sure we embarked on the project because it provided an opportunity to tackle several sewing skills such as applique, buttoning, embroidery, perspective and design and it was truly unique.
I continued to sew through the years. Sewing helped expand the clothing budget, but more importantly, satisfied my need to be different. Deep down inside, there was a struggle between conforming and being different. If I created it, no one else would appear at the event wearing the same outfit I had on.
Thanks to the early training, I had fairly competent skills. Along the way, I learned how to crochet, knit, embroider and smock. I knitted a UK tie for a boyfriend. I’ll never do that again. I crocheted the lace trim for my girls’ First Communion dresses. I smocked a variety of baby outfits and little girl dresses. Of course, I made my wedding dress.
Through the years, I would take on a project with no base of experience in my repertoire. One such project was my daughter’s wedding dress. Reconstruction and re-tailoring were not part of my skill set. I really must have a pattern to follow.
When my sister married a few months before I did, she purchased a lovely two piece outfit designed like a vintage, tailored, riding dress. She wanted a few changes such as cutting off what amounted to a train. The dress was constructed cut on the bias. I was terrified. I convinced her to allow me to create a bustle effect out of the train, not changing a stitch in the construction.
When my daughter’s boyfriend charmingly asked our permission to marry our daughter, I put on my Mother of the Bride hat and waited for the invitation to go wedding dress shopping. Our daughter called with the news that she had found her dress and it was on sale. I tried to disguise my disappointment that I hadn’t been involved in the momentous event. But, Mom, I want to make a few changes in the dress. Flash back to the easy fix for my sister.
What was I thinking? I knew my daughter better than that. She had a sketch. In the end, the dress was completely deconstructed down the back and a multi-layered shirred panel inserted which flowed into a train which the dress did not previously boast. The gown was one of those strapless numbers for which absolutely perfect tailoring and fitting were a necessity unless you wanted a wardrobe malfunction at some point during the evening.
Our granddaughter is visiting this week. She is five and wants a Frankenstein costume for Halloween. She waves her hands describing the top and bottom and the sleeves and the colors and it has triangles on the hem with moons. I roll my eyes, and off we go.
While I cut and sew, she watches.