Fab Feb Photo Collage Festival: Day 15 Dressmaking tributes


4 x 7UP collageIt would be interesting to know how widespread it was for mothers to make their children’s clothes “back in the day”. My mother was a good dressmaker, and very particular, though I think she sometimes felt overshadowed by my paternal grandmother who had been a professional dressmaker.

This a pyjama top made by my grandmother.

This a pyjama top made by my grandmother. Pity I didn’t iron it :-)

Click to enlarge and see the neatness of the inside seams.

Click to enlarge and see the neatness of the inside seams. I’m not game to try removing the stains which have come out over time.

I still have my grandmother’s sewing machine, which is a dust-collector display shelf now painted white. I’ve had it since I returned to Australia. I used to love playing with Grandma’s buttons and bits when I was little.

My grandma's sewing machine.

My grandma’s sewing machine.

A smart winter outfit created by Mum.

A smart winter outfit created by Mum.

Throughout my childhood Mum made me winter coats, dresses, shorts, hats, beach tops, casual clothes, etc etc. You’ll see many of them through this collage series. Mum also excelled at making beautiful ball frocks which will feature on another occasion. Similarly Mum’s own clothes were always well sewn and she always looked very smart and fashionable. I have many great photos of her in these outfits but to respect her privacy I’ve not included them here, which is why you have to suffer through mine.

Soon after New Year every year, the major department stores would have their annual sales –remember those, in the days when they occurred once a year rather than every “five minutes”. Our primary objective was to hit the fabrics department running, gathering up fabrics by the armful that we could later sort into priority order. It was a fine balance between price and yardage to ensure the selected fabric was actually long enough to turn into an appropriate form of clothing. Not much point getting a bargain if it wouldn’t even make a top let alone a dress. Of course, the mini skirt made that much simpler <smile>.

One of my first store-bought dresses,and a favourite.

One of my first store-bought dresses,and a favourite.

I never felt that my clothes were unfashionable or, heaven forfend, looked “homemade” ie poorly sewn.  Still and all I remember my jubilation when we saw this dress at a January sale. Not only was it beautiful and on special, but it was complex enough with its matching stripe pattern, to make us feel like it was worth paying good money for, rather than attempting to reproduce it ourselves. Each and every stripe met the other perfectly, exactly as if my mother had sewn it herself. The skirt was cut on the cross so would have been even more of a challenge to sew.

I loved this dress, which is why I just had to include the photo in this series. My recollection is that it was my first store-purchased dress but perhaps my memory is playing tricks on me. Soon after I also bought a fabulous red woollen pant suit with a Nehru collar and buttons down the front. I loved that outfit too. It’s quite possible that I contributed to the cost from my Christmas holiday job savings. Perhaps the joy of store-bought clothes was not having to be fitted and re-fitted for whatever was being sewn, and not having to stand on the kitchen table while it was hemmed.

This cropped enlargement is fuzzy but you can see the hours of work Mum put into the beading. This was my Year 12 Formal dress for school, in the school colours.

This cropped enlargement is fuzzy but you can see the hours of work Mum put into the beading. This was my Year 12 Formal dress for school, in the school colours. It was pale blue chiffon over some sort of lining.

Taking photos in front of the Poinciana tree at the end of our street (cul-de-sac) was one of our family traditions.

Beware: more dressmaking stories ahead.

Fab Feb imageFamily Hx writing challengeThis post is part of the February Photo Collage Festival and the Family History Writing Challenge.

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17 thoughts on “Fab Feb Photo Collage Festival: Day 15 Dressmaking tributes

    • By the time I knew my grandmother she’d stopped sewing which is a shame. Mum was a good dressmaker I think (though not professional)…she did have fewer kids to look after than your Mum though ;-)

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      • You were the only child? My mother went back to school to become a teacher when I was about six and then taught from when I was 8 until she retired. Later on she did simple sewing for herself but once she started teaching it was decades before she sewed again. Time was probably a big factor.

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      • Good sleuthing Kristin ;-). Yes, and my mother never was in paid employment so she had more time, and perhaps needed to save the money too. Time would definitely have been a big thing for your Mum.

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    • Hardly, with a mother who was an excellent seamstress :-) It means it was cut on the diagonal which gave it more flare, and also meant the stripes were neither straight up and down (makes the wearer look taller -not something I needed) or side to side (fattening). Hence why it can be a pain to match up the stripes. Clear as mud I guess.

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  1. I agree with Kristin, your grandmother’s work on the pyjamas is excellent, as is your mom’s work on your winter outfit and formal dress. That sewing machine is an absolute treasure. Thanks so much for this post Pauleen. It really reminds me of my mom.

    My mom came from a tradition in which girls had to learn how to sew, and she was very good at it. When I was a little girl, I was the only one of my friends whose Barbie dolls had a ‘couture’ wardrobe. I had forgotten about the delightful little outfits Mom made for Barbie until I found a box of them when I was clearing out Mom’s house after she died. Seeing them again brought back such wonderful memories.

    Cheers,
    Jennifer

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    • I’m so pleased that this story reminded you of your Mum’s Barbie couture wardrobe Jennifer. She must have had a lot more patience than I ever mastered as they’re such fiddly things, though my aunt used to love making dolls’ clothes. Thanks for your comments. Pauleen

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  2. Your posting reminded me so much of my mother who was apprenticed as a tailoress at the age of 14. She was still making her own clothes well into her 80’s and I cannot remember as a child having bought clothes, apart from school uniform. Unfortunately I do not seem to have many photographs beyond the age of 10, so you are lucky to have so many examples to show of your mother’s skill.

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    • Thinking about sewing has made me realise how much the textures etc come back to me. You’re very fortunate that your mother was so skilled. Mine was more an excellent amateur but her precision and determination meant that everything was just so. School uniforms are a pain to sew -I confess I bought my kids and Mum bought most of mine too. I’ve only recently acquired lots of these photos so I’m very thrilled to have them. And then, too, I got my first camera when I was either 10 or 11, so there’s ones I took after that.

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  3. Likewise, my Mum was the seamstress in our household, although I do recall my Grandmother knitting. She tried to show me, and it was the only time I can recall her loosing her patience with me and extractin the knitting needles and passing me a book!

    As I said, Mum could sew and looking back I was an ungrateful so and so. I hated having homemade clothes. Of course looking back now the skill was worth so much more. I have several memoires is things Mum made for me, I might have at least one of them in the loft,otherwise I perhaps can describe from memory although that is not as good as a photograph.

    The old Singer machine is great. Issac Singer is buried in Torquay and is the subject of a Graveyard Rabbit post later this year. I need to go over to Torquay and get some more up to date photos.

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    • I laughed at your story of your grandma Julie -my #2 daughter reckons I turned her off sewing for life. #1 did sew for a while but #3 never even got near the machine;-) Patience isn’t my strong suit about things like that.

      I think we’re all ungrateful in different ways when we’re young -we just don’t appreciate what went into the work. Even if you can’t find the clothes to take photos, try describing one -you might be surprised how the colour and feel of fabric, and how you felt, come back to you. I didn’t know about Isaac Singer so look forward to your post.

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  4. I rarely had bought clothes, usually made by Mum, or even from a fairly early age, by me… I don’t do so much now, but I’ve always loved it, especially hand sewing. Lots of great memories of dresses being made just before an occasion, heaps of fabrics, and yes, cutting skirts on the cross or bias. I loved making dolls clothes, still do, and have sewed for all the family. My greatest delight was when I could make clothes for Mum, instead of her doing it for me.

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    • You’ve obviously got the bug Chris! I certainly haven’t. I sewed for years (an upcoming post about that), but can’t say I’m enamoured of it. As to doll’s clothes, as I said to Jennifer, my patience didn’t run that far….nor to making something my mother would wear :-) I wish now that I’d kept samples of all those fabrics…I’m not quilt maker but that could turn me into one I reckon.

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      • I just love fabrics, threads, textures and all that go with it. I love making quilts but that has been put on hold for now as well. The vest I made with all the memory fabrics, which I have included in a post on The Back Fence of Genealogy is but one item I made from saved snippets… it’s a great way to preserve a little of the past.

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      • You were obviously ahead of my planning on this…wish it had occurred to me before I did too much throwing out as we moved. I remember your vest because of this.

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