It was made of a white sheer cotton fabric embellished with small dots known as Swiss dot. It had a rounded Peter Pan collar, short puffy sleeves, and a sash waist that tied prettily in a bow at the back. This A-line dress was tea-length, skimming my legs mid-calf. A plastic tiara with attached veil, white tights and white patented leather shoes, completed the look.
Wearing this outfit, I felt like a princess walking down the aisle in St. Mark’s Church one Saturday morning in May, as I saw Monsieur Johnson standing at the altar. Eagerly awaiting my turn to say “Amen”, I was excited, yet nervous being just steps away from receiving the paper-thin cardboard-like wafer, the Holy Eucharist, and in doing so, I would complete my First Communion! Hooray!
I have to laugh when I recall some events like that one, remembering first what I wore, then later, the details of the occasion. My First Communion dress is so memorable, as it was not chosen from a store’s rack, it was custom made by my Aunt Bev. She was a seamstress extraordinaire and every Christmas, my sister and I knew we were going to receive one of her creations. I’ll never forget the corduroy tunic top and bell bottom pant suits she gave us in 1972. Mine was orange with green trim and Donna’s was green with orange trim.
I couldn’t have known how much time and effort Aunt Bev put into sewing clothes, until the 8th grade when Home Economics was a part of the curriculum. At least it was for girls. Part One was Cooking, and Part Two was Sewing.
Industrial Brother sewing machines were stationed at long tables in the Home Ec wing of Crosby Junior High. Our no-nonsense instructor, whose name escapes me now, but her words do not, said, “These are machines, handle them as such!”
During that time, my vocabulary grew to include baste, bias, bobbin, bolt, finger press, seam allowance, selvage, tuck and yoke. Sewing square pot holders was our first assignment, and I thought how handy they’d be when practicing my cooking skills learned earlier that year!
Next, we made table runners and the last project was one of our choosing. I chose: Pattern: Butterick 5984 Culottes & Tees, Fabric: calico, Color: brown with pink flowers, Notions: brown thread, pink ribbon for the drawstring. When finished with this class, I knew sewing was for me! I enjoyed the creativity, the options, and mindfulness it took to piece together fabric into wearable and useful items. And the culottes I made? They turned out so well that I wore them proudly to our school dance that spring!
Busy with other activities, my interest in sewing wasn’t piqued again until 11th grade. That’s the year I met Reggie. She wore stylish, rich colored, lined, corduroy and linen blazers. I thought they were simply divine. When I found out she actually made them, I wanted to learn how. So it was no surprise when Sewing was offered as an elective that year, I, as well as Reggie, and a handful of friends all joined in. A true sewing circle of sorts.
Our instructor was unlike my first. Miss Polachek was more engaging and enthusiastic, but still held us to a high standard. Like all teachers, she wanted us to learn the proper way to do things and to put in the effort. At the beginning of each class, she would make the rounds and inspect each project laid out before us. If she was standing next to you, and she put one hand on her hip, we all knew what would happen next. Inevitably, the index finger on her other hand would be on its way to point to the seam or seams that weren’t straight. Accompanying this action were the words we all knew by heart, “Rip it out and do it again.” After each of us had the opportunity to feel this discomfort, we came up with a nickname for Miss P. From then on, we referred to her as Miss Sew It All. (In jest, of course.)
However tough she could be, under her tutelage, we learned to make buttonholes, kick pleats, vents and how to insert a zipper and even finish a waistband. In time, our creations became more recognizable, even good! Some very good! And we all enjoyed the camaraderie within our group.
So inspired by this experience, I saved up for my first, and to this day, my one and only sewing machine, a Kenmore Model 158.12271. My mom came with me when I bought it at Sears & Roebuck in the Allendale Shopping Center in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. On that Kenmore, I have sewn my high school prom dress, two graduation dresses, my first year of college wardrobe, and countless other clothes, household things and art projects.
It has accompanied me to college, seven moves within California, two places in Oregon, a home in Arizona, across the Atlantic to London and now back here in California once again. I’ve had it tuned up year after year, and today it is still sewing strong.
From my journal: June 12, 1992 Los Altos, California
“Just had my Kenmore serviced…the guy said he hasn’t seen one like mine in a while – ha! Still runs great!”
I know I could easily replace it with some fancy schmancy newfangled machine, but given our history together, I can’t possibly part with it.
What began as a required class decades ago, has turned into a lifelong love. Even now, sewing helps me hone new skills, gives me confidence in my abilities, and is a fun creative outlet. When working on a project, it calms my mind, improves my focus and relieves stress. And when completed, I am left with a one-of-a-kind item I can hold in my hands, that reminds me of friends, loved ones, and life events, that I still hold dear in my heart.