Specially Designed by Mom | Closures Essay
The following reader story was the featured Closures essay in Threads #200, Dec. 2018/Jan. 2019.
Specially designed by Mom
A colleague commented that the brown corduroy jacket I was wearing the other day was “very ’70s.” I braced myself for a wisecrack, something about how that decade represented a low point in fashion, but none came. Yes, I’m a bit sensitive about the jacket. First, because my mother made it for me when I was in high school, around 40 years ago. Second, because I suspect it might look kind of goofy.
My mother took a freewheeling approach to sewing patterns, making up new styles and following her imagination. Once, I gave my mother the OK to make me a western shirt because it looked good in the catalog. Her quirky mind went to work and took it further, embroidering the yokes with outlandish designs of cacti and sheriffs’ badges. I wore it to make her happy, but only while I was inside.
Despite my corduroy garment’s rugged look, it isn’t exactly a jean jacket. A jean jacket stops at the hips, and this one comes down to my thighs. Maybe I’ve been wrong all these years in calling it a jacket. Perhaps it’s an oversized shirt—except shirts don’t have side pockets, as this does. Considering its pockets and generous lapels, maybe this was my mom’s take on the upper half of a ’70s leisure suit. But if so, why corduroy?
I’ve always liked the jacket. I remember wearing it on assignment for my college newspaper in 1978, trying to cultivate an image: The Corduroy Reporter. However, by the ’90s, my jacket, always too homespun to belong to a particular style, became all wrong. Nevertheless, I still liked to wear it every now and then, figuring I could take a little ridicule in order to honor my mother. It’s been 20 years since her passing.
There’s a label inside the collar of my corduroy jacket that proves my mother made the piece, should anyone ever doubt it. In fancy script, it reads: “Specially Designed by Jean.” In this way, the garment is, indeed, a genuine Jean jacket. I suspect that her favorite sewing shop gave her a free supply of labels as thanks for her patronage. I doubt she would have splurged on this extra. A single mom raising two boys, my mother sewed to save money. She also sewed to have fun, to express herself, and to forget her worries. She was always at her calmest and happiest when sitting at her sewing machine. She never doubted the rightness of her creations. Take the couch pillows she cranked out during her interior décor phase. There was nothing subtle about their shiny fabric, their radiant colors, or the overwrought rosettes she stuck onto the middle of each one. She gave the pillows as gifts, as if every living room should have a half dozen.
Even now, 40 years since it was made, the jacket fits perfectly. I credit my wife’s healthy cooking and our gym memberships for this miracle. However, the garment fits in another way as well: It doesn’t look out of place. It’s unique without being weird, which is not something you can say about all of my mother’s creations. Most everything else she made was just outlandish or tacky enough not to work. She would have been better off sticking to the pattern, but that wasn’t her style. To me, the corduroy jacket was her masterpiece: well-tailored, well-made, and well-loved.
Paul Hadella is a teacher, musician, and journalist living in southern Oregon. Though he does not sew, he appreciates the craft.
Do you have a sewing story to share?
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Other Closures essays you may enjoy:
“Making Masterpieces” by Cynthia Pappas, from Threads #187, Oct./Nov. 2016.
“Sewing Room Envy” by Jann Everard, from Threads #135, Feb./March 2008.
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