Claire Kennedy is my inspiration today. The woman has made sewing into an art form since birth. She says she used to wake up at night and sew doll clothes. I would have been raiding the refrigerator for a Neapolitan I had hidden from my little sister. And I did not become Ben or Jerry. Drat. Claire is the goddess of clothing creativity. Can you say "draping"?
I grew up with walking distance of Fran's Fabrics. I even went to junior high with Fran's well-dressed daughter, Candy.
When trying find our first home, I can remember unconsciously calculating how far I would be from Hancock's Fabrics. Luckily, we rented a house only 6 blocks away. Our second home was near some now defunct fabric store on a busy street. It was OK. But, our home of 31 years was within walking distance of Stitch 'n Time. The mother load. Until it went out of business a long, long time ago.
About the time my son left for college, Hancock's closed. Whew! A near fatal blow.
Where would one buy a spool of thread in my neighborhood now that practically all the fabric stores are gone? Where would one move to be near the good fabric? Somehow I don't think Dollar Tree General will meet my needs. Maybe I should just stay on a strict diet in order to be able to wear my existing clothing for the rest of my life.
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
Our mother could cook but not sew. So, my grandmother started us out with fabrics and threads at her house during the summers of the fifties in Tecumseh, OK. When my sister and I would go to visit, we did what Grandma did. Sewing by hand and using a treadle machine which was motorized somehow by my creative grandfather. We started with scraps for doll clothing. Grandma made us house coats out of flour sacks too soft for words.
We addressed and re-dressed our dolls by their first names. We stitched layettes for Tiny Tears, petticoats for Saucy Walker, fur coats for Revlon dolls, and wedding gowns for Barbie. We moved on to crocheted pot holders, knitted house shoes, crewel pillow cases, and numerous quilts.
Being big city girls during the school year, we had our in-town Grandma, Great Aunt Kathryn. We were lucky because she did not have to work and spent her days doing exactly what she wanted. Like putting three 3-course meals on the table each day for a family of four; tending her garden; answering the telephone for her husband’s plumbing business and taking detailed notes on the latest water issue; baking pies for every sick person at the Nazarene church after she attended all services; cleaning the house and garage and sweeping the 100 foot drive way each morning; making ceramic Christmas trees and candy dishes for every living relative in the free world, and making her own clothing and that of her grandkids. She graciously sewed our back-to-school clothing.
Luckily, we lived within walking distance of Fran’s Fabrics. Fran’s daughter, Candy, was in my seventh-grade class. What an honor. Luckily, Candy was a walking advertisement for her mom’s shop. I started school each year from first grade to seventh in a plaid jumper—courtesy of my Aunt Kat. Only a few kids wore store bought clothing to school. I felt sorry for them.
Those little girls had not been able to go for fittings all summer and get cookies and candy. Nor had they been permitted to walk down the sidewalk in front of the scary two-story Burford mansion across the street from my aunt’s house. They never got to hear a loving relative say, “If you don’t stop growing up to be such a fine girl, I am going to have to let out your hem before September! Give me a hug! I love you.” Luckily, I was tall and thin, and hemlines inched upwards each day during the sixties. I could get two years out of most jumpers.
Later Putnam City Junior High insisted on re-teaching me to sew. My report card reflected that I went back to the basics like the hem stitch, basting a zipper, and how to tie off a knot in the thread correctly. Been there, done that, and today I use the same seam ripper—the Swiss Army Knife of couture.
In high school my mother forced me to take sewing as an elective in tenth grade although it threw me off the college track temporarily. “I am not paying $14 for a skirt you can make for three dollars,” Mother barked. Good point. The Sewing I class had a few older girls who took Sewing II. Alice and Suzanne were bleached blond silver-needled black belts with magic fingers. I modeled my every move after their hopes and dreams for their wardrobes.
By January we graduated from elementary table cloths, placemats, and the official apron of the 1964 Simplicity pattern book. At the beginning of second semester my mother took me and the official sewing supply list to Fran’s Fabrics. We class members had to make a matching blouse and skirt. We spend a fortune on fabric. I was expected to wear this expensive outfit until I went to college more than once a week which was a taboo with my crowd. Of course, I went with a 100% pima cotton grey plaid with shades of white and maroon woven in.
Other girls in the class had chosen flimsy pink polyester from TG&Y or some scraps from a garage sale. Having no family heritage of expert clothiers, they had nothing to lose. But, we had chosen the top of the line goods, and my teacher loved the hand, weave and thread count of my fabric and assessed the expense while fondling it.
My teacher meant well when she said, “I guess you will be learning to match plaids this semester.” At first I appreciated the extra attention she gave me by standing over me when I pinned the pattern to the pre-washed fabric, and as I cut it out with razor-like precision. If that sweet lady had been my relative, she would have hugged me in the process just because she could.
“Remember, girls, the sign of a well-constructed garment lies in the degree to which the plaids are correctly matched,” she pontificated. Really? I should have picked cheap scrap from the sale table and not put my G. P. A. in jeopardy.
Eventually, she hung over me like a vulture while I constantly basted, re-basted, ripped, re-ripped, eased and re-eased every single seam in the blouse five times each. Trying to match the plaids better. Periodically, she would snatch a sleeve or cuff from my hands and do it herself. Apparently, when she went to college, they did not have a class called “How to Teach the Gifted 5% of Lefties.” My grandmother and aunt instinctively knew how to teach me, but I kept this fact to myself. No hugging or crying occurred. But, I had a stomach ache, and she started chewing her nails as gum was forbidden in the public schools. We both suffered from too much plaid matching.
“Attention, ladies. Place your hands in your laps, please. I have an announcement. Our class has been asked to model our new outfits in the school assembly. We will double our efforts to be ready on time and look our best. Your mothers may attend. All right, let’s get busy. Let’s sew!”
During week five the pressure began to take its toll. We girls tried our best to make our garments perfectly and pressed every seam open twice. She patrolled the room like a cop checking every single stitch we made.
“Use the zipper foot. Place the seam guide. Move the button lower. Rip it out. Who has the button-holer?” she shrieked. My self-respect, reputation, and G. P. A. depended on the side seams matching and button alignment down the front of the blouse. Would I be able to do it right? Was she a good enough teacher? Which of us would crack first? Would I get into college? Would she be fired? We all worked overtime during study hall during week six, our looming deadline.
When I pressed--professional talk for ironed--my full skirt, it was cute. I had been hitting the Nestle’s Crunches in the new vending machine pretty hard, but the button would hold on the waistband. The long-sleeved collared, yoked blouse matched plaids perfectly, but it wasn’t exactly comfortable.
Several thousand students emptied their classrooms and headed to the auditorium for the awaited Spring Assembly and Style Show. Our Sunday-best mothers had come by the classroom to say hi and gone to their assigned seats.
Each girl-seamstress-model stepped individually onto the make-shift classroom stage to twirl one final time before lining up against the wall to march single-file to the auditorium. All went well until I took the stage.
“Stand up straight, Kay! What are your arms doing? Stop doing that! Oh, no!” Her face contorted as she glared at me. The girls thought I was acting out; she and I both knew I was covering up.
Having re-basted sixty-three times, I had the teacher’s coveted approval initials on my check list for “Cuffs”. During my final pressing, I discovered that somehow she had given me the green light accidentally to sew my cuffs on upside down. The expensive pearlized buttons stuck up like search lights on the top of each wrist. Rather than cry and rat her out at the final minute, I had already chosen the path of least resistance. She went into shock at her error; I went into self- righteousness at my great plan to cover up.
The audience of students, faculty, and parents loved the style show. Applause grew louder as we girls crossed the stage one by one with our teacher and the Sewing II girls in the lead. I brought up the rear on purpose. Having studied my mother’s Photoplay magazines, I had taught myself how to model professionally. I knew how to circle my hands under my chin like a kitten and then point toward the audience and place my hands behind my back quickly. Something rap singers would not discover for half a century. I jerked around, pointed, and flailed my arms and body across the stage to the sound of a Bert Bacharach tune sung by the girls’ choir which drowned out the laughter.
My sewing class established me as a comedian, and my teacher as a master of her craft. We called a truce without saying a word. I got my A; she kept her job. I never touched the outfit again, but I found a 50-year-old spool of gray thread in my sewing box yesterday. As I sewed on a button, the alpha waves kicked in. The finished product is a shirt to wear and a story to tell.
Posted by K at 2:04 PM
Monday, July 29, 2013
I have been encouraged for decades by fellow teachers, friends, colleagues, relatives, students, professors (and all of their collective relatives and friends) to keep writing.
Brightly illustrated stories prove that someone out there is listening, reading, buying, communicating, paying and publishing. One story sold in 1990 and was not published until 2000! The huge file of rejection slips is proof that I never, never, never, never gave up.
I also have done (written) over 50 writing workshops on everything from stand-up comedy to journaling.
I can still Goggle my anthology title and find it on www.amazon.com.
I have my first fan letter in my hand thanks to Carly Wegener Tribbey. I am humbled. She wrote!
Obviously, I am keeping this letter and lots of other written stuff. Oh, good cow. If I am writing this, where will I store it? Facebook? Reeaaaaaly? The I cloud –really? My computer—really? Realllllly? I need to lie down and think this over.
I know we have gone from the chisel to the computer, but where is all this WRITING going now? Facebook, I cloud, blog. Who will read this in 20 years . . . again? Is this the beginning of something wonderful and new or the end? Hmmmm? I just lost my wifi connection. See what I mean?
Posted by K at 5:49 PM