Thursday, September 20, 2012

Just Like Grammy Netted Me A "D"

My maternal grandparents
and itty bitty me.
I grew up with a family who sewed all our clothes. Or at least close to it. I don't remember a time when grammy didn't have something she'd made for me in a birthday box or Christmas present. As a kid, I didn't much appreciate clothing. No kid does. It's just that "grown ups" seem to forget that when they become parents.

Mom wasn't given to
hysterics--except for
when she sewed.
To give my mom and grandma credit, it was the time of WWII and with clothing near impossible to purchase, the family sewed our clothes. Even my aunts got into the game. The reason was that my mom HATED sewing. Oh, she did it, but I vividly recall the day she was sewing my middle sister and me a cute little yellow sundress. I was standing beside her, watching her create with cloth when to my utter amazement, that yellow dress went flying across the room and landed in a corner. About the same time as I saw it airborne, my ears heard mom say, "Oh, just forget it." The dress stayed in the corner till the next day.

This may be the exact pattern
mom used as the yellow dress
looks just like the one I recall.
Then one day mom surprised us with those cute dresses. I was more than surprised. I questioned when she had finished them because to my knowledge, I'd not seen her working on them since the "flying" day. "Aunt Aimee did them," she said. "She sews better than I do." I knew not to ask any more questions. Mom was well aware that I had witnessed her frustration with sewing. Actually, small as I was, I figured I'd never see that dress again.

Suffice it to say that it wasn't my mom who taught me to sew. Neither was it grammy or one of my mom's three sisters. My first venture into the craft came about in high school. In those days, ninth grade students were automatically cycled into sewing for one semester and cooking for another. By the time I was that age, I'd learned to cook, set a proper table, use a napkin, and I even knew what a salt cellar was and where to set them on the table. Mom loved entertaining. Thus, I learned at her feet.

Ninth grade Home Ec--mandatory sewing
The sewing knowledge began with a simple dirndl skirt. We girls were told to go out and buy a yard of our favorite cotton and show up the next day with the fabric, scissors, pins, and thread. Mom took me shopping and by the next day, I was ready to create my first sewn masterpiece. I had chosen a lovely polished cotton that I thought was the prettiest fabric I'd ever seen and nothing like any skirt I'd ever had before. I envisioned myself dancing through the halls in my silky-looking skirt. Surely every girl who saw it would be jealous. At least that's what I told myself.

Yep, we used those old black Singer
sewing machines.
We were all instructed to make up our own pattern, something I thought was ridiculous. We had to measure how tall we were, how big our waist was and how far below our knees the dress was to hang. Considering math and I had never been friends, I had to garner the teacher's help. I was thankful that I wasn't the only one. Once I had my instructions, I cut the fabric, allowing enough leftover for a one-inch wide finished waistband. I have to confess that it was easy to sew the side seam together, since the skirt was cut of a single width of fabric. Hey, I was on a roll.

You sew in two parallel rows so that if
one thread breaks, the other will still
gather the fabric. Unless, of course,
you break both threads.
Then came the gathering process. I carefully ran two rows of basting along the top of my skirt and then proceeded to gather the thread into a tiny circle which I figured out later would only have fit my little sister's favorite doll. Each class member turned their skirt in so the teacher could evaluate them. It was a daily occurrence. We'd sew, leave our project behind, and head out to our next class. I thought I was doing incredibly well, considering that with all the sewers in our family, I'd never had a single lesson.

Of course you've guessed what happened the next day. The teacher called me up to her desk and questioned if I'd decided to make the skirt for someone else when I had been told it must be for me. When I answered "no" she asked me how I expected to fit into it. She held the skirt up for me to figure it out for myself. How embarrassed I was to note that there was no way on earth that skirt would fit anything except one of my legs. I went back to my machine and began loosening the gathers. But I got too rambunctious and broke the thread. Both of them. That was the day I learned not to be so vicious when undoing a sewing project, especially if it involved threads the width of an eyelash.

A half-sewn waistband, ready to be
turned to the inside and hand-
stitched down.
I eventually got that skirt gathered to an inch larger than my waist size, which put me a day behind the rest of the class. So while everyone else was learning how to sew on the waistband, I was busy practicing yesterday's lesson. By the end of class, I managed to get the waistband partly sewn on. Teacher told me to take it home and finish it and to bring it back ready to wear. Hooks and eyes and all. I was happy. I KNEW how the waistband should be sewn down, and considering we had to do it by hand, I REALLY knew what it should look like because I'd worn grammy's offerings for years. Yet just to be sure, I browsed my closet and inspected the skirt's gram had made for me. That was all the confirmation I needed.

That evening I sat at the machine, hand stitching the inside of the waistband to the skirt. Then on to putting in the hem. Piece of cake. I knew what that should look like too. I was so happy when I walked into class the next day and presented my finished project to be graded. Now please note that I had never liked gathered skirts. And it would never have been my choice. Why, you ask?  Every high school girl I've ever known always wished to appear thinner than she was and toward that end, nobody wore gathered skirts. None of us wanted all that poofiness around our middle.

On the outside, my
skirt looked perfect.
 I walked into class the next day smiling confidently and, like the others in the class, handed in my project. A few days later, we all got our skirt back, along with the grade we'd received. But where was MY skirt? I figured maybe the teacher thought I'd done so well she was going to hold it up as an example of perfect so all the girls could see what a fantastic job I'd done.

I was a bit surprised when the teacher called me up to her desk. I still figured she was going to compliment me on my offering. I stood beside her chair as she brought my skirt out of hiding. "Sandra," she began, "I'm going to have to give you a D on this skirt and I really don't want to because I see how you've tried so hard to follow directions.

I guess I must have look puzzled because she continued, "Do you see this sewing on the inside of the waistband? And do you see the stitching around the hem?" I shook my head yes. "Will you tell my why you did such sloppy work when you've been so careful with all the rest?"

I was stunned that she didn't know what professional sewing should look like. So I explained. "But my grandma has made clothes for me all these years and for my sisters and all my cousins and that's how she always does the waistband and the hem. I wanted my skirt to look just like grandma made it."

Looking back, I realize how kind that teacher was. She looked at me with such soft eyes and talked real low so nobody else could hear. "Well, Sandra, that might be how your grandma sews but for this class, the school  has rules I have to follow in teaching, so would you please take all your stitching out and make it neat and tidy so I can give you a better grade? Afterwards, you can put it back like your grandma's if you want to.

I did as she suggested and ended up with a B in the class but only because I think she took pity on me.  The fact that I adored my grandma and wished to be just like her and copy everything she did must have touched some secret place in my teacher's heart. I've often wished I remembered her name so I could have thanked her for her utmost kindness toward me that day.

And by the way, I never did take the neat sewing out and put it back like grandma's. Teenager that I was, I was smart enough to figure out that maybe, just this one time, grammy was wrong.