Fab Feb Photo Collage Festival: Day 19 Ode to a Friend

4 x 7UP collageToday I want to introduce you to one of my oldest friends, one whose permission I don’t need before we “go public”. Ms Bernina first came into my life when I was seven months pregnant with my first child. We’ve been mates ever since, but like all friends there are days when we have a falling out because things aren’t working well between us. However over the years we’ve shared so many experiences. She’s been such a robust friend, notching up many air miles travelling between Papua New Guinea and Australia, and then coming on a road trip with us to Darwin.

Poor Ms Bernina, she's looking a bit tired and needed some flowers to cheer her up.

Poor Ms Bernina, she’s looking a bit tired and needed some flowers to cheer her up.

Together we’ve shared memorable moments like christenings, balls, First Communion, school formals, Christmas gifts and ice skating as well as those day-to-day moments like school uniforms, travel outfits, work clothes or new curtains each time we’ve made a new home. So many fabrics have passed under Ms Bernina’s dainty feet: chiffon, velvet, lycra, brocades, knits and cottons in geometric patterns, stripes, flowers, prints, polka dots and paisley. Together we favoured patterns made by Vogue –they may have looked complicated but in a different version of “read the *** manual” were just fine so long as you followed the steps. Butterick and Simplicity also got an occasional workout but Burda wasn’t a favourite.

Ms Bernina is getting older now and after a lifetime spent in humid climates, her joints don’t always work as well as they could, especially if they’re not given a regular spa bath of oil. Many months go past when she’s superseded by that Johnny-come-lately laptop, but there’s life in her yet.Pauleen Cass Lees wedding Mt Hagen

The connection to today’s collage photo is fairly obvious I think. Ms Bernina made this outfit for me when I was matron-of-honour to my sister-in-law. Around my neck I have a simple lilac velvet ribbon on which was a pretty cameo in lilac and green with a  marcasite surround, a gift from my Aunty Emily whom you’ve already met.

In the best traditions of family dressmaking, the bride’s lovely frock was made by her mother and she looked gorgeous. It was quite the event in Mt Hagen, one of PNG’s tea-growing areas, as it was held on the tea plantation where the groom worked. The reception was at the Club and the guests were all “ex-India” don’cha know, “not a single Singalese” (property) among them! I smiled and helped serve the canapés…there were benefits to all those school lessons in charm and deportment.

Thanks for always being a reliable friend my dear Bernina…I hope we have a few years friendship left in us yet.

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

Fab Feb Photo Collage Festival: Day 16 Cinderella and the ball

4 x 7UP collage

Another debutante in rural Victoria: Mr Cassmob's mother

Another debutante in rural Victoria: Mr Cassmob’s mother

Perhaps it’s all those children’s stories of Cinderella et al being transformed and sent off to the ball that makes formal outfits so appealing to teenage girls (well at least this one, as was). I did feel very like Cinderella at the ball in my Debut gown. I had professional photos taken but the real satisfaction came from the stunned look on my date’s face. He’d been dragooned into being my partner that evening and suddenly he looked as if it might not be such a hardship.

I’d asked a guy from uni who I’d been dating occasionally if he’d be my partner, and initially he said yes, only to renege a few days later. I suspect that when he got back to college, the other blokes told him just what was involved in being a deb’s partner: the white gloves, the formal waltz, the Archbishop presiding and the nuns with an overseeing eye. It couldn’t possibly have been that he didn’t want to go with me <wink>. The irony was that like Mr Cassmob he also came from Papua New Guinea, although nothing like him in colouring….seems I was fated to end up in PNG.

pauleen deb

There's that curtsy.

There’s that curtsy.

My mother’s dressmaking skills feature prominently as she made all of my evening wear dresses for formals and balls, but my Debut frock was her piece de resistance. I remember very clearly that we chose the white chiffon which she then took to a firm (no idea who/where) to have it permanently pleated into a concertina format.

How did she get it from a long piece of pleated fabric to this? Well, what happened was that she kept the tightness of the pleats at the top near the waist then of course the bottom spread out beautifully (perfect for waltzing and curtsying). She cleverly used a piece of the fabric, stretched out, to make the gorgeous collar. I just looooved this dress. Our bouquets for the evening were muffs (it was the Dr Zhivago era), with blue and white flowers and ribbons, the school colours. It looks as if, for once, I hadn’t gone home and washed all the teasing and hair spray out of my hair before the event which was held in the ballroom of City Hall.

Aunty Olive's deb photo circa late 1930s.

Aunty Olive’s deb photo circa late 1930s.

Heaven knows why I decided to make my debut though I don’t think it had anything to do with the “being presented to society” rigmarole. Perhaps for the sheer fun of getting all “gussied” up? The debut was hosted by our recently-departed school, and we were presented to the Archbishop. We had to make this deep curtsy –worthy of meeting the Queen. You could tell the All Hallows’ debs at uni, by the way they walked the week of our training – those curtsies killed your calf muscles, let me tell you.

I suspect that making one’s debut was not as much a social class thing in Australia as it is or was in Britain. Among our photo archives I have Deb photo for my husband’s mother and aunt, and also one of my mother’s friends.

This is the Vogue pattern for the pink dress, and also the basis of my wedding dress.

This is the Vogue pattern for the pink dress, and also the basis of my wedding dress.

Looking back at all the old photographs  it’s surprising how vividly I can feel the texture and cut of the many fabrics either Mum or I made into clothes.

Off to the UQ Science Ball with Mr PNG.

Off to the UQ Science Ball with Mr PNG.

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

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.