The fabric of life

yes, even a variation of these

When I was a wee lass growing up in the wild back woods of Idaho, my mother made 99% of my family’s clothing. I recall being herded along with my sisters, into the family station wagon where we were stacked like cord wood in the back and hauled into ‘town’ to look for patterns and fabric so mom could cover our skinny asses, yet again. 40 years ago (sheesh, I can remember 40 years ago, that sucks) there were several choices for shopping in Who-ville and we generally ended up at the JC Penny.  In the fabric and notions area of the store I would pull out a heavy chair, crawl up and sit on my knees in front of a very large Buttericks or Simplicity sewing pattern book where I would flip through pages looking at the patterns like it was a Christmas catalog and I was going to find something really cool to wear. Each of my sisters as well as my mom would also be stationed in front of their respective books and the process would begin.  More often than not, we would have to share a book so the elderly seamstresses of town could find their next pattern for their trend setting garment. We would politely scoot together and share the book.

There was always a lot of negotiation going on about the choice of patterns because generally there would only be one pattern chosen.  Oh joy!  I got to look exactly like my sisters, for the umpteenth time in my life.  For a very long time people thought that we were triplets because we are all so close in age and were about the same size, when in fact 3 years cover our age difference.  I recall a few things about the photo below, first of all we were assembled for our cousins wedding in California.  I am the one on the left with the always present, unruly hair.  The dresses of course were manufactured by our mother and I can only recall that there was some argument amongst we girls as to who got what color.  I will be corrected/confirmed on this next bit, but I think the colors of the dresses were blue, pink and yellow. Damn, if only color film had been invented way back then.

Once we had achieved universal accord on the sewing pattern, we would turn our sights to the fabric selection.  This is the part where our imaginations could run wild with our individuality…in the land of polyester.  Yes I said polyester. One day I’ll have my Sweet Husband take a photograph of a quilt my mother made from all the pieces left over from all of the polyester monstrosities she magically created over the years.  Yikes that quilt is painful to look at, but dang it’s warm.

We girls were free to choose whatever fabric that we wanted, within reason of course.  The fabric had to be a certain cost and relatively easy for mother to work with…yeah like I cared.  I would look around at the fabrics as far away from my sisters in the store as I could because I didn’t want to choose the same fabric as they did.    I also wanted to pick out what I perceived to be the best fabric before either one of them. I think it’s fairly obvious from photos that you will never see that I had no sense of style when it came to picking out either patterns or fabrics.  I gravitated to the high colors and bold patterns like a butterfly to a flower and I wasn’t afraid to wear them, but hey, it was the 60’s and 70’s.  I liked the process of looking and picking out the fabrics and buttons and hidden zippers and learning about the thread that would make the garment last longer. This little  family process was the fabric of my childhood, one that I let linger and fade away over time.

it's all about the sleeves

It was a surprise to me when my Sweet Husband and I found ourselves on the Big Island of Hawaii a couple years ago and I wanted to stop at a fabric store we had passed by several times. I felt drawn to this building, with its aging charm and dusty windows. This is a critical point I need you to understand, I do not sew.  I did not get the seamstress gene and if my life depended on sewing an object or be put to death, you’d better starting picking out the music for the slide show that will be shown at  the funeral, because I would fail.  However, I do own a sewing machine, but that’s for hemming things and straight seams and no intentional puckering of corners or curves.

What I found  when I walked into this store was huge selection of tropical prints in varying degrees of colors and design.  It was such a lovely store and the nostalgia of reliving the pattern and fabric selection was overwhelming and it really made me miss my mom and sisters. I’m sure they would love this place as much as I did. The store is ancient and worn and packed to the rafters with fabric and it is run by these elderly Hawaiian ladies that are very helpful. In a basket near the cutting table were pieces of fabric rolled into little bundles each for sale for a small price.  The pieces are about 20×26 inches and just right for quilting or other yet to be imagined things.  And I just had to have some, I don’t know why, but I needed to own them and bring them into my home.  So I did.  With the help of my Sweet Husband he helped me pick out a few (dozen) to purchase.  I thought I might be able to tackle a quilt or something really simple to make. I even showed these fabrics to a friend of mine who is a really good seamstress and she offered to make me something. But I was unsure.

I am thrilled with the selection of fabrics that I purchased and yet I still didn’t know what I wanted to do with them until one day…I just knew.  I purchased some picture frames and stretched the fabric like an artists canvas and simply hung them on the blank wall behind Sweet Husbands desk.  It’s possible for me to still love fabric stores and purchase some because I liked it, but it’s probably a good idea to have an idea before hand.  I got lucky with the nostalgia of a growing up experience that sparked this idea in the first place.  I think they turned out pretty good.

click on the pink arrow to see what his shirt says….it’s where you want to be.

In all fairness my parents had 7 children and I know my mom made clothes for all of us, including our Barbies.

13 thoughts on “The fabric of life

  1. What a cool story about your dresses growing up! I love the idea of getting to pick out what you wanted. I never had that option. Clothes were just made for me and usually they included crochet unfortunately. Those pictures are gorgeous. Great use of your fabric!

    • After I wrote this post I kept thinking about all the things sewing related that I actually know, but can’t put into practice. dang

  2. Pingback: The fabric of life « Blah blah blog-o-licious | Wholesale Fabric Buying Guide

  3. Ah yes, I being older did not get any polyester, I got…Dan River Cotton prints, same book, same dress pattern, my dress pattern was a shirt waist dress, buttons down the front to the waist band, actually opened, saved on zippers. Gathered skirt, I covered it all up with one of Mom’s brown sweaters that I wore to death, I mean holes in the elbows wore to death. I sort of caught the sewing gene, I do own a sewing machine, an idiot proof one and have occasionally sewn hems. However, I have discovered over the years that sitting down to hand sew a hem or make a quick button repair job is very relaxing in front of the TV. I LOVE the print fabric framed for wall art, LOVE IT!!
    I still wish I were small enough to wear my 8th grade graduation dress, black and white polka dot print with criss cross straps on the back. Woo hoo!
    R

  4. Love what you did with the material, what a cool idea. And loved your story. My Mom didn’t sew much, she shopped at the Bon and once I was old enough to drive I would return my cloths and take the money to salvation army and buy cloths with money left over for fun money and things like putting a few dollars of gas in the old pick up truck. Remember actually being able to put a dollars worth in your gas tank and being able to drive around all day.

    I did a lot of hand sewing in my collage days, enjoyed it, picking the pattern and material and hand sewing a shift type dress. Now I just look in my closet and think OMG I need to get rid of anything I haven’t put on for a year.

    Carlae: I don’t remember every buying anything from the Bon, until I was in college in Nampa. Now the freakin Bon doesn’t even exist anymore.

  5. Royce :

    Ah yes, I being older did not get any polyester, I got…Dan River Cotton prints, same book, same dress pattern, my dress pattern was a shirt waist dress, buttons down the front to the waist band, actually opened, saved on zippers. Gathered skirt, I covered it all up with one of Mom’s brown sweaters that I wore to death, I mean holes in the elbows wore to death. I sort of caught the sewing gene, I do own a sewing machine, an idiot proof one and have occasionally sewn hems. However, I have discovered over the years that sitting down to hand sew a hem or make a quick button repair job is very relaxing in front of the TV. I LOVE the print fabric framed for wall art, LOVE IT!!
    I still wish I were small enough to wear my 8th grade graduation dress, black and white polka dot print with criss cross straps on the back. Woo hoo!
    R

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