My favorite memory of Mom was her ability to produce beautiful wearable items sewn by her hands and heart. She was a good seamstress. Not great, because she could not design and cut out a garment without a pattern like the contestants on Project Runway. She was good because she could purchase a Simplicity (her favorite) pattern, select the fabric and create an outfit anyone would be proud to wear.
She mastered the pinch-pleated skirt. It was always made from a colorful printed fabric rescued from the bargain basement at the local Woolworth 5 and 10¢ Store. Imagine, with just two yards at 25 cents a yard, I had a skirt for a few dollars.
After selecting the skirt fabric, Mom would visit Penney’s or Maas Brothers, the go-to Tampa department stores in the ‘fifties and ‘sixties, where she would purchase a solid-colored blouse matching one of the colors in the skirt fabric.
Mom would say that she saved money on the skirt and could afford the perfect blouse. The truth was, making a blouse took a lot of time and had pertinent details. The biggest challenge in creating a blouse was the buttonholes.
Mom’s skirts, worn with crinolines, of course, with matching blouses, made up my wardrobe for most of my school years.
Over time, Mom practiced making dresses. It was an easy transition since it was a “pinch-pleated” skirt attached to a top with darts. These dresses never had buttonholes. They did, however, have the challenging zipper!
We soon learned to grade the garments by the quality of the zipper installation. A perfectionist, Mom would give herself two or three zipper-rip-outs before losing her temper and sometimes throwing the whole effort into the trash. She did produce some of my favorite dresses, though. The garments made me feel unique and pretty, but also proud knowing that my mom had made it just for me.
As I entered my late teens, my body started to change. I grew breasts, my torso became elongated, and my hips widened. Fittings became more challenging for both of us. I also became more vocal about what I liked and didn’t want to wear. Fashion was also changing, and duplicating some designs became very expensive. Some garments required skills in tailoring, and not all the sewing notions necessary to produce a new fashion design were available to the home dressmakers.
Japan was producing clothing for the masses. So many of those purchased blouses had labels that stated: “Made in Japan.” Over time as the quality improved, imported clothing became more acceptable. Mom was also becoming more socially active, and she was filling her usual sewing time volunteering at the local hospital and playing bridge with friends. I think she even tried golf.
Because of the decline in home fashion design, home sewing pivoted towards making home goods such as pillows, curtains, and quilting. All these things made sewing less pleasurable for my mom, especially when she discovered that buying ready-made apparel created instant gratification. Her new interest quickly became the thrill of shopping!
As I reflect on our sewing hobby, I have memories of my grandmother helping my mom with her sewing and of my mom teaching me. I tried to teach my daughter, but all she wanted to know was how to thread the machine and sew a straight line. That was all she wanted to learn. After that quick lesson, she mastered beautiful decorative pillow covers and perfectly hung drapes, all requiring nothing more than a straight stitch.
Ray Ann Favata says “For about 15 years, OLLI has offered me the opportunity to serve as the Volunteer Management Committee Chair, President of the Board of Advisors for the 20th Anniversary Celebration, and Chair of the Travel Opportunities Committee. My membership in OLLI has been one of the best decisions I have ever made in my life. ”