My mother is a saint. She taught me how to sew…’nuff said. If you do not sew, you can not fathom the patience, focus, and combination of geometry, second sight, and straight up luck it requires. It is truly an art from an era where people had endless hours of time void of distractions like television, cell phones, and email as well as a lack of unlimited, affordable, store-bought clothing made overseas.
There is not one step of sewing anything that can be done on auto-pilot. The moment you get cocky and think you know what you’re doing, you’ve forgotten to add some crucial seam allowance to your measurements and you’ve turned an elegant frock into the Queen Mother’s sensible day dress. (A costume designer I once worked with told me how he not once, not twice, but three times sewed a leather sleeve onto a jerkin upside down so when he put it on the form, it was sticking straight up!) A delicate science.
My mother is a woman who, after spending several hours (probably about 10 or so, total) on the pattern I’d selected for my 8th grade graduation dress (a tea-length dress with a full skirt and strapless with fan-like, wide pleating in the bodice in a peach cotton) almost throttled me when I said I’d rather have store-bought. I’m not sure what possessed me, I think I was just wanting to fit in more. What a fucking princess! I would have been so much more proud to wear her handiwork. Instead, I felt like someone I was trying to be (that was new, not) instead of myself. I’m sure there’s a picture somewhere (unless I’ve burned it). I wore a strapless dress from Maurice’s, jealous much?!, with a short-sleeve shirt over it…I’d decided the strapless was a bit too risqué. Honestly.
Mom had put in several hours on The Dress in between teaching, raising 4 kids (my oldest sister was in college at that point), driving 2 of us to every sporting and musical event we were involved in, and studying for her master’s degree. Good lord. What an asshole. I remember the look of rage she shot me as she bundled the almost completed dress into a paper bag and muttered, “I’ve been sewing for Goodwill for 10 years!” I was a thankless wretch.
A dear friend of mine, who grew up in a very small town in the Bitterroot Valley, points out that 8th grade graduation was huge deal in her parts because a lot of the girls never had a prom. It was a largely Mormon population, and the many of them never made it through high school because they were married and mothers by 16. I do think that is why it was such a huge affair, most of the gals had floor-length gowns with hoop skirts. Of course, it was
I think I ended up wearing a green, sequined, two-piece, green, granny number to my actual prom (attended to by the first and only guy who asked me, a friend of mine from math class). That’s another entry. Dear Lord. The ‘80s were really unkind, the ‘70’s, actually, if you go by the fashion time-line. Or I just had no effing taste. Or personality. Or…we’ll stop while I’m ahead.
I could not be more indebted to my mother for teaching me how to sew. There is nothing like having tangible proof that you can create something and that patience and diligence pay off. I made many of my own clothes over the years (usually pieces I couldn’t find anywhere) and am going to get back to it soon. Thanks, mom.