Friday, July 9, 2010

The Dressmaker's Daughter

My mother was a dressmaker.  During my early childhood, spent in the Dominican Republic, she was a middle-class housewife with household help, like all her friends. However, she loved to sew, as did many women of her generation.

It was the custom then to visit a seamstress to have your clothes made from photos in magazines or patterns that you'd purchase from the German pattern book Burda.  But many housewives made their daughters' clothing at home.  This was our case.  My mother made all my clothes.

I have photos of lovely white birthday dresses made of eyelet and adorned with pink ribbon.  And of cotton dresses, matched with a hat(!) made of gingham or polka-dots.  I  recall these beautiful dresses and the pride I felt in wearing them.  I don't remember whether I knew instinctively that no other little girl had the same dresses I did (how could they?), but I do remember loving the clothes.  I'm glad I have photos to remind me.

When we emigrated to the US, I was perhaps less interested in having my mother sew for me - except when I came into my teens and wanted special party clothes.  There's nothing like having something made specially for you.  Something that no one else has.  It's couture in the true sense of the word.

The photo albums tell the story:  the evening dresses worn at my 15th and 16th birthdays (the first significant because it's THE birthday for Latin girls; the latter because it's the one for American girls).  My wedding dress, which was made by my aunt, a dressmaker extraordinaire, and the one person my mother deferred to in her sewing skills.

Because of this history of dressmaking in my family, I have always loved fabric stores.  They make me as happy as bookstores do...A fabric store is an amazing world of color, design, fantasy and possibility.  The trip to the fabric store was the first step when I'd tell my mother I needed something new.  First we'd look through the pattern books to see what caught my eye.  My God but it was fun to rifle through the giant books of Vogue, Simplicity, McCall's, and Butterick patterns.  The books were seasonal and so you'd look through the available fashions for Spring, Summer, Winter or Fall.

I was never patient enough to learn to sew myself, although my mother would have loved to teach me.  But, at least I was always proud to extol my mother's virtues in this regard.  I took one, abbreviated, sewing class in high school, and made one hideous polyester, raglan-sleeve dress.  After that, never again.  Of course, it's a cliche that now I wish I'd learned to sew.

Nonetheless,  I know that my mother's dressmaking skills instilled in me a love of fashion.  That love has flowered, although rather late, into an entrepreneurial venture, and I have her to thank for it.

'Til next time.

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