It’s in my DNA
I come from a long line of women devoted to fabric and needlecraft. Some of my earliest memories are of my mom sitting at a small metal black Singer sewing machine, her foot on the floor pedal and her hands pushing fabric along under the needle. My grandmother seemed to have an embroidery hoop attached to her lap and no daughter or granddaughter married without a hope chest of beautifully embroidered cup towels, table cloths, napkins and pillow cases.
Mother had a variety of white dainty embroidered bridge cloths which were used to cover the Samsonite folding card table when company was expected or her bridge friends gathered. On those occasions while the can of sweetened condensed milk boiled on the stove to create slices of caramel, she would carefully iron each table’s cloth and napkins and place them carefully on the table so that the satin-stitched flowers were visible.
My aunt, her sister, did the same and they both created most of their own daughters’ wardrobes. Mom drew the line at coats and when I was 9 or 10, I remember my first trip into a store to buy a store-bought coat. For the most part I was very happy with what Mother produced with one exception, the olive green challis dress with the embroidered cross-stitched maroon border along the hem. I hated that dress with its puffed sleeves. I hated the icky color and the embroidery…I felt much too old for that sort of thing and was sure I looked really stupid in it, big for my age anyway. But I wore it or rather, bore it and was delighted when I accidentally got a tear in the bodice.
Both sisters loved fabric and since my mom didn’t drive, they were thrilled when I got a driver’s license at 14 and could deliver them to the grand opening of Gem fabric store in north Austin, the first store in Austin to specialize in fabric and notions for sewing and needlework. Previously fabric was only available at Scarbrough and Yaring department stores downtown. They loved walking among the rows of bolts of cloth standing on end, checking the prices and running attractive fabric through their fingers testing its weight and feel.
In the days during and following World War II, everyone sewed their own garments and by the time I got to junior high, it was certain that I should sew. I sat at pattern counters for hours with my mom trying to decide on the perfect dress or blouse pattern. I grew three inches between 6th and 7th grades which sent my mom into a sewing frenzy. In 8th grade I was 5’91/2” and signed up for home economics with Mrs. Desta Jefferies, a tiny vivacious woman with sparkly brown eyes whom I grew to adore. My first garment was a cotton dress of two shades of turquoise, pale for the sleeveless cowl-collared top and darker for the circular skirt with an orange cummerbund. I really loved the way it turned out and my mom was proud of me. She even took off work to come to the school for the style show. I had my first pair of low heeled white shoes to wear with it and my mom loaned me her garter belt to hold up the thigh-high stockings…this was long before panty hose. The big day finally arrived and I was number 12 to cross the stage in front of an auditorium full of parents and students. As I began my grand entrance, I could feel my garter belt begin sliding toward my shoes. The only way I could keep it and my stockings up was to spread my legs wider apart as I sashayed across the stage. My steps got wider and wider as I hurried toward the other side of the stage. I couldn’t wait to get to the restroom to take the darn thing off. Such was my introduction to hose. Is it any wonder that I hate panty hose?
I did learn to sew and for a lot of years when I was married, I made most of my clothes but for my wedding my mom made only my veil. My wedding dress was actually bought under the guidance of Goodfriend’s bridal consultant. What a thrill it was to stand in front of the mirror on the store’s second floor and turn slowly in clouds of white lace. I felt like a princess as my mom shelled out $125 for this gown which included the services of the consultant who came to the church to direct the dressing of the bride and her bridesmaids and send them down the aisle.
When I graduated from SMU, a wonderful Singer machine was a graduation present from my in-laws and it cranked out garments for me and for my children for years. I loved appliquéing animals and trains on little jump suits and dresses. When the children were older, I made costumes for the plays that they were in. The pink and gray mouse costume hung around the house for years along with a pair of gold lame harem pants for an Aladdin performance. As the children got into their teen years, they refused the idea of “homemade” and went for name brands like their peers. So the machine grew quiet with just some occasional mending and repairs to zippers.
But when the first grandbaby was coming along and I was working full time, I traded the old machine in for a new fancy Bernina that would do all kinds of fun stitches. I cranked out blankets, crib sheets, burp pads, and curtains and had so much fun doing it. I even began to sew a few things for me and some curtains for our new home but that was about it for a long stretch.
Then I discovered fabric as a new art form. I have used it on canvas collaged into paintings; I have quilted drawings; I have printed photos on fabric; I have painted and dyed fabric; I have glued paper to fabric; I have made a large quilt in an abstract pattern; I have made fabric books; I stitch on paper. The love of all things fiber has turned into a passion and once again I’m sewing and stitching with abandon. I even finally finished embroidering the baby quilt I started 10 years ago for my last grandchild now as a gift to my first great grandbaby. I still have the Bernina and have been told to hang on to it by the dealer as it is one of the last full metal models. As long as I keep it clean and oiled, it should last me the rest of my life. Yay!