The following reader story was featured in the Closures department of Threads #187, Oct./Nov. 2016.
When I was in the fourth grade, I got to dress as Jeannie from the television show I Dream of Jeannie for Halloween. I wore home-sewn pink satin harem pants with a bolero to match and a white silky blouse with puffed sleeves. Mom pulled back every blond hair on my head into a high ponytail until my eyebrows felt tight. My ponytail cascaded straight out of a pink headpiece that she had made. I kept folding my arms and blinking my eyes just like Jeannie so everyone could get the full effect. Sallie, my sister, was a flapper in a shiny red satin dress with rows of swingy, silky black fringe. Another year, Sallie and I were Kato and the Green Hornet, respectively.
Mom’s creations always began with a trip to our local fabric store. We would head first to the tables loaded with pattern books—McCall’s, Butterick, and Vogue—and turn to the section for costumes. We were mostly looking for inspiration and typically ended up creating something unique. That year, we came home with 3 yards of black fake leather. Out of this shiny-as-rain-on-pavement fabric, Mom fashioned a chauffeur’s cap and matching jacket for my Kato outfit. I wore black tights and a black turtleneck. Sallie and I spent most of October karate-chopping and yelling, “Ha!” like the characters on The Green Hornet show.
Mom’s sewing space and time were sparse. To cut the fabric for each project, Mom spread her cutting board on the living room floor. It was the only place big enough in our tiny ranch home to unfold 3 yards of material. She sewed all of our clothes during commercial breaks at night while my dad watched television.
She couldn’t run the sewing machine during the shows because it made fuzzy lines in the picture tube, and then Daddy couldn’t see his football or basketball game. It took a lot of commercials to finish one outfit. Mom stationed herself in the green chair in the corner of the living room with the best light for doing handwork, and then raced into the bedroom to sew a seam. Timing was critical.Sallie and I would yell, “show’s back on!” and she came back out to the living room to baste the next seam.
Mom created gorgeous dresses for special occasions. For Sallie’s sixth-grade graduation, Mom made her a turquoise sleeveless dress with a vertical swath of white lace in the front topped by a lace bow, exactly like an outfit worn by Barbie’s sister, Skipper.
We never got through a holiday without a garment being hemmed at the last minute. That meant standing on a chair in the kitchen and holding the pins, while Mom leaned the yardstick against one of our legs and pinned the hemline. “Turn. Other way. OK, now back. There. Now, be careful of the pins when you take it off,” she’d say.
Mom believed that homemade was a statement of originality. She always said, “No one else will have an outfit just like yours.” She inspired creativity in my sister and me, taught us to sew, and gave us a respect for home-sewn items. In retrospect, I wish I had saved some of her works of art. There were dresses with careful French seams, my prom dress with the marabou-edged shrug, a lime green and purple bathing suit, a camel’s-hair coat lined with satin, and so many more. But at least I have my great memories
of those garments. They were all masterpieces.
Cynthia Pappas sews in Springfield, Oregon.
Do you have a sewing story to share?
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Other Closures essays you may enjoy:
“Sewing Room Envy” by Jann Everard, from Threads #135, Feb./Mar. 2008.
“Mom to the Rescue” by Cynthia Rothbaum, from Threads #107, June/July 2003.