Sunday, May 10, 2009

Stitching Together Memories of My Mother

There’s a line I love from a Sally Rogers song that goes, “Let your dreams bind your work to your play.” Here at Storey, I’ve had a chance to do just that, especially over the last couple of years as we’ve been developing a line of sewing books: Sew What! Skirts, Sew What! Bags, and—coming in October—One-Yard Wonders. There’s nothing that makes me feel more playful and at home than a roomful of fabulous fabrics.

When I was young, my mother made most of my clothes, often letting me pick the fabric, the pattern, or the embellishments. Looking back at photos of myself when I was in elementary school, it’s the dress I’m wearing in each picture that evokes the strongest memories. Like this one:
I loved the sheen of the red fabric, the ribbon trim around the skirt, and the neat little metal buckle Mom used to make the belt. There are so many other fabric memories . . .the turquoise, stained-glass pattern with the wide rickrack running along the dress yoke; the pink, orange, and white striped sundress; the waffle-weave corduroy dress with pewter buttons on the sleeve bands. Wearing my mother’s handmade creations made me feel special. Her sewing savvy rubbed off on me at a young age; I don’t even remember the first time I sat down at the sewing machine but it’s been the place where I'm most at home ever since. I love feeling the fabric lightly zipping along under my hands as I guide it along the 5/8-inch mark on the needle plate.

By middle school, I was making my own clothes from the fad fabrics of the late ‘60s, early ‘70s. Red-and-white bell bottoms with “Love” printed all over, a purple granny dress with multi-colored handprints, and a boldly striped mini skirt with matching bolero vest were my forms of self-expression. We had a big, bold ‘60s-style kitchen with flower power wallpaper, Marimekko-print tablecloths, and a special cabinet that held our sewing machine. For my mother, sister, and me, this was our haven—cooking, sewing, chatting, and singing away as we whipped up all kinds of wild creations.

Check out my mother pulling weeds in her one-of-a-kind, zebra-print corduroy shorts, circa 1967!
I patched together the scraps from all the crazy fabrics we stitched with to make curtains for my room. I loved lying in bed recalling the story of each fabric and what we had made from it. These memories are the fabric of my life—the stitches that connect me to my mother, and to the source of my own creativity.

Too bad my mother’s not around to see the amazing new looks coming out from today’s young fabric designers. Who knows what she’d be wearing to weed the garden this spring?!

—Deborah Balmuth, Editorial Director


Deb Burns said...

Lovely, meaningful story, Deborah. Reminded me of the smock dresses my mother used to make for my sister and me in our favorite colors, with embroidered yokes and rickrack hems ... and the fun my daughter and I had in turn, making clothes for her dolls.

Amy Greeman said...

This is a wonderful post, and so inspiring to a beginning sewer (me!). Your memories of your mother are as beautiful as the fashions she made for you.