Thursday, July 2, 2009

Old Sewing Machine

It was an old sewing machine, not an antique, not passed down from one generation to another. It was just an old sewing machine.

So why was I crying as my husband and I drove to deliver it to the woman who had agreed to buy it?

I had bought a brand new Husqvarna-Viking machine as a birthday present to myself. I had been wanting a new one for several years. The old one was kind of clunky, it made uneven buttonholes, and it didn’t sew delicate fabrics very well. A new sewing machine was a good thing.

The old machine, a Signature from Montgomery Ward, was a workhorse that had never needed repair. My parents bought it for me when I was sixteen.

My grandmother criticized the first thing, an apron, I had made on my new machine. It upset me because I was only sixteen and I was so pleased with myself. To me, it was a momentous occasion, the completion of that first project, and to have my grandmother focus immediately -- and only -- on its faults was a blow. My mother soothed my bruised feelings, telling me that Grandma believed that the inside of a garment should look as good as the outside. My apron did have some raw edges on the back side of the waistband, but Grandma, didn’t you see the pretty decorative stitching I put on it? I learned from the criticism, though, and began to do better.

My floor-length senior prom dress was pink dotted Swiss, with an empire waist, a pink grosgrain ribbon sash, and puffed sleeves. I had flowers in my hair and my handsome fiancĂ© at my side. Senior prom was the night we all got to stay out as late as we wanted. After a breakfast at Howard Johnson’s, I got home around six a.m. My mother was up and getting ready to go to work. I managed to see the frown of worry slip off her face as we arrived looking tired but safe.

Not long after that I made my wedding dress – the first one, that is. It was white crepe, knee-length, and it had long sleeves. I think I made it from the same pattern as the prom dress, but I added a ruffle of lace to the scooped neckline. I was the very picture of purity. The marriage didn’t last long. I was only eighteen and far too young to be married. I gave the dress to one of my close friends, who shortened it to a scandalous length and wore it dancing.

Oh, well, not every story ends with happily ever after.

In college, I made a golden-brown wool skirt, calf-length with a center slit to the knee. I wore it with stylish brown leather shoes, dark-tinted stockings, and a tailored, high-necked blouse, the kind that would later be used to make women’s power suits more girly. The outfit was pronounced “smart” by one of my fellow dorm-dwellers. It was certainly more dignified than the blue, bonded-knit hot pants (how’s that for a double-barreled blast from the past) which I wore with black-tinted stockings, black patent-leather high-heeled boots, and a tight black turtleneck sweater. Hair to my waist and half again as much jewelry as I really needed completed the look. I got whistled at. Back then, that outfit did not make me look like a streetwalker as it would today.

Having survived my college years and entered the workforce, my sewing slowed down somewhat. I had a job where I could wear jeans and t-shirts, and I seldom wore anything else. I had heard talk of the walls caving in if I was to show up in a dress, but I did now and then and the walls are still intact.

At some point, and I don’t remember what triggered it, perhaps the offerings in the fabric stores, I began to make tropical print shirts for my father. He always liked the Hawaiian aloha shirts, but he never went to Hawaii and didn’t know anyone who did. I found a perfect camp-shirt style pattern, and discovered I could turn out a shirt in two evenings, completely finished inside and out, according to my Grandmother’s custom. One of my friends at work learned that I made the shirts for my father and asked if I would make one for him. One might think that with all that interest in my sewing I might go into business, but I don’t especially like sewing for other people. I sewed for my father because he was family and I made the shirt for my friend because he could make me laugh.

In the 1970s, I made the obligatory hippie skirt out of a pair of jeans. I opened the inseams and inserted gores of a faded burgundy denim that I had. I embroidered important things on the skirt and added an eyelet ruffle at the hem. If I could still fit into that skirt, I would wear it. I’ve kept it for sentimental reasons.

Another item I kept for sentimental reasons is a quilted jacket I made for my mother. It was mostly black and cream with multi-colored panels of fans down the front. The look of pleasure when I gave it to my mother was the most rewarding moment in my sewing-for-family efforts.

I got married again, and this time it took. I have made a few shirts for Richard. One that he has practically worn out is made of dark blue cotton with little Golden Retrievers printed on it. That is significant because our dog, Brandy, a Golden, was a big part of our life. Brandy is in doggie heaven now, but Richard still has that shirt. I also made him a shirt with tools printed all over it. Richard is a woodworker, so the tool theme fit perfectly.

Can you see why I was weeping when we were transporting the old sewing machine to its new owner? I made memories on that sewing machine.


Janice said...

I remember that sewing machine. And the apron! But you made yours and it was perfect and Mrs. Cook made me make 3 of them in class and it never looked right. Don't think I made a very good grade on it. And I didn't go with you to breakfast after the prom did I. Didn't Faith, Arnold, Sonny and I leave the prom and meet up with yall later? Can't remember. Maybe we did maybe we didn't. Help my mind remembe!

faith said...

I totally understand. But now you're off on a new adventure with a wonderful new machine. I had no idea you kept up with sewing like you have. I did a lot of sewing until about the mid-80's, made most of my clothes but then life got too hectic and it seemed to fade into the background. Now I'm starting down that road again. This time not with clothes but with crafty things. Simple pleasures. :-)

phyl said...

Marie, I love my "minds eye," I can "see" you at every stage you have talked about. If I had known my grandmother, I think she would be exactly the same as yours', it's called "tough love"...not the way I'd personally act towards my granddaughters' first try at the sewing machine. I also had Mrs. should have seen her face after I finished my first Home EC. assignment: a simple little apron. Mrs. Cook realized I just couldn't sew, no matter how hard I tried...she could have given me a D, or worst, but she didn't...bless her this day I'd rather use glue than stitch anything

Bridget said...

Oh wow. I think I would have shed some tears too.

Best of luck and lots of memories with your new machine!

Theresa said...

Wait - did you JUST buy a new sewing machine?? I'm confused! If so, you may be wanting that flour sacking back so you can make yourself some more "big girl" panties!


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