MyStoryYourStory: Mother’s craft on exhibit – a sewing diary

Growing up, I lived between the folds of two worlds – one of emerging materialism in the mid-1960s and the other, a residue of homegrown ingenuity left over from the early 20th century. Residing in this precarious place, I experienced a tenuous pull between commercialism and homemade, a tautness over store-bought and a mother's creativity.

Back then, I was reared conservatively. Strictly structured within my mother's practical sensibilities, I and my five siblings were walking billboards for Mom's handiwork.

Having Mom as my seamstress caused a good deal of consternation. You see, I so very much wanted to shop downtown, free to select anything off the rack at the local J.C. Penny or Sears Roebucks. Whenever I daydreamed of choosing from the latest outfits, I felt liberated.

Succumbing to this craving, I'd occasionally slip away to the neighborhood Jamesway – a 1967 version of Wal-Mart. There, I darted directly to the young ladies department, where I'd embark on a magic carpet ride through racks of factory made clothing. Modeling the latest fashions, I'd walk the "runway" in front of the three-way mirror. And afterward, I'd shuffle home, sighing deeply and feeling satisfied, yet empty handed.

Even in the wake of my gravitational pull toward retail, my family's tight economy caused me to shop at the fabric outlet store, which was tucked away from the glitz and glitter of Main Street.

Once inside, I could choose from anyone of a hundred or more bolts of material – madras, seersucker, dotted Swiss, velour, cotton twill, percale, corduroy, denim or, my favorite, polyester.

Strolling the aisles while inhaling the aroma of freshly milled fibers, I was keenly aware that this was a different world – a place where one's imagination was required.

Carefully scanning the emporium of prints and sewing patterns, I would embark on a shopping spree that required vision and patience – a creative process that demanded both stamina and faith.

The math used in fabric stores is figured in yards and multiplied by width; the language, articulated by a different lexicon with words like nap, fray and grain.

Mom's mood seemed altered, as well. There were only two things in life that miraculously turned her from a cranky mother of six into a goddess – cooking and sewing.

As I narrowed my choices to polka dot, plaid and flowered for several smock dresses Mom would sew in the days ahead, I couldn't help imagining my peers as they shopped with their mothers. Certainly right about now, they were strutting through fashion shops like models, purchasing the latest styles right off the rack, tags and all.

No thumbing through pattern books for those girls, nor waiting for fabric to be spread over a cleared kitchen table. No quietly hanging around while mothers smoothed and then calculatingly straight-pinned patterns parallel to the grain.

No pensive pacing while new outfits took shape, as scissors carefully cut them out. No doodling or dawdling while their moms matched fronts to backs, inside out and then stitched with a Singer or a Brother, leaving a half-inch seam all the way around.

Yes, I jealously pictured my pampered friends living a carefree existence where instant gratification was commonplace.

As I left the outlet lugging a single bulky bag of McCall's patterns, fabric with matching spools of thread, buttons and zippers, I pictured them flanked with shopping bags – three in each hand – giddy over their brand new ready-to-wear apparel.

2011 © Copyright Paula Damon.

A resident of Southeast South Dakota, Paula Bosco Damon is a national award-winning columnist. Her writing has won first-place in competitions of the National Federation of Press Women, South Dakota Press Women and Iowa Press Women. In the 2009, 2010 and 2011 South Dakota Press Women Communications Contests, her columns have earned eight first-place awards. To contact Paula, email boscodamon.paula@gmail, follow her blog at and find her on FaceBook.

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