Rosie’s Memoirs: Sewing

About 10 years ago now, my sister and I started urging our mom to please write down some of her memories from growing up. She rose (see what I did there?) to the challenge and emailed them in installments. These aren’t my stories to tell, but I appreciate being able to capture a bit of her history in the telling, and I think they’re worth sharing here, if only so that my kids one day have access to them. (Also, she’s not here to stop me. So.)

First topic: Sewing. By way of introduction, I remember that Mom left her sewing machine set up in the spare bedroom in our farmhouse. It folds down into a cabinet for storage, but she usually left it set up because she was always using it. I joked that she made us everything but our underwear and socks when we were little. Later, I challenged her to make me a prom dress and one for semi-formals in college. She also helped me bring to life the blouses and skirts my bridesmaids wore. (I’m still sorry about this, ladies. You were all really great sports about it.)

I liked to tinker on the sewing machine, too, whether it was making Barbie doll clothes out of scraps of cloth, or more challenging items in 4-H (a wrap skirt and vest, with edging, which was entered in the county fair) or home-ec (a red duffel bag with white piping, which I don’t think I ever did finish).

Rosemary tells the rest:

When I was a little girl, animal feed was sold not only at feed stores, but also at Troup Bros. store, when Uncle Bill’s father ran it, in large sacks that were made of printed fabric. You could buy feed for hogs or chickens or peeps, and more. The sacks were of a printed material, usually floral, that was very coarse, and took many, many washings to get them to be a little softer. They were used to make tea towels (dish towels), aprons, dresses, kitchen curtains, and even underwear. The bags, when full, weighed 100 lb., and when empty, sold for $.25. I had a dress that Aunt Doll made for me that was made partly of feed bag and partly of regular fabric. A feed bag dress was not something to be proud of. It identified you as someone of meager means. I don’t remember people making fun of me to my face, but I knew the connotation of a feed bag dress.

Mother once made me a bathing suit out of mattress ticking. I imagine I was about eight or nine years old at the time. The suit was a two-piece affair with a bottom that looked like shorts, with underpants sewn in as a liner. Swimming lessons were given above Millerstown in an in-ground pool at the cabin of a family of some means, the Rippmans. The pool was spring fed, so the water was bitterly cold. I learned to swim there, even though my suit did not come from the Youth Center, a nice store for kids. I wasn’t aware of kids talking about me in my “ticking suit”, so if they did, at least they were discreet. (BTW, you can still see the Rippman cabin from the highway [Route 22-322].)

Aunt Doll was the best big sister when it came to providing clothing for me. She took a wool dress that no one was wearing anymore, disassembled it, and made it into a jumper. She took a linen-like suit, remade the skirt, and took out the sleeves of the jacket, and made me a little two-piece outfit. She made me a plaid wool skirt out of a dress no one was wearing, and she made several dresses out of” virgin” fabric. She made evening dresses for me as I got older, and made at least two prom gowns. I remember them well.

When I got to college, I realized that I needed clothing for occasions other than classes. I taught myself to sew simple things, and as I improved, I used more complicated methods. I made my teaching wardrobe for years, as it was far easier to make good clothing in the size I needed , and the style I wanted, in the color I preferred, than it was to run around a mall looking and not finding the right garment. I also learned to improvise. I cobbled together three patterns, and , using a remnant of damask from a drapery fabric shop, (Scarlett O’Hara, eat your heart out) made a dress for $1.65; inexpensive, even for the 1960’s. I would decide in an evening that I would like to have a new skirt, or jumper, and , if I had the necessary components, show up at school in a new outfit the next day.

By the time you were born, sewing was a regular part of my routine, and I made lots and lots of things for you to wear, including your good winter coats. Just the other day I was making some decorative pillows for the spare bedroom, and the belt to my sewing machine broke. Imagine, after 45 years and miles of thread, I was stopped in my tracks. Fortunately, Sears still makes the belts, and I was up and running the next day.

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