Growing up in a family of six children, my mother sewed a great deal for her family: neckties for dad, dresses and jumpers for the girls and shirts for my brothers. I imagine all of us kids were presented with at least one pair of pajamas or nightgown.
To accomplish all of this sewing requires tremendous yards of fabric, notions and patterns.
I remember fondly the trips to Southgate Plaza to visit House of Fabrics, JC Penney’s and Stillman’s. Sometimes we’d hit Sear’s too and in the later years Fabric World and Sew-Fro. House of Fabrics was the best. Knowledgeable staff, great fabric selection, embroidery/craft kits, catalogs for all of the major pattern companies. My mom would always get her name on the list so when the seasons changed and along with it the catalog, we’d get the call to pick up the out-of-date Simplicity catalog to take home.
I learn the art and science of fabric and pattern selection from my mom. Conferring with the sales lady one could generally determine a fourth-of-a-yard less of fabric would be required if you laid out the pattern differently than how the pattern instructions indicated to do so. Of course that rule wouldn’t apply if you’re talking sturdy corduroy for school jumpers. The “wales” make a difference!
Back in the ’60s and early ’70s we were loyal shoppers and cotton purists until our world is rocked by the opening of Southtown Mall (1969) and new fabric fibers. The building of STM leads to the demise of Southgate Plaza leaving it a potholed ghost town: Walgreen’s, Schwartz’s Babyland and JC Penney’s among others move to the new mall. Other stores like House of Fabrics simply disappear.
100% cotton fabric becomes nearly impossible to purchase with the advent of blends. A little bit of “poly” cuts down the ironing. Polyester, double knits my mother was on roll-dresses, pants, you name it. One Christmas morning she busily films her family and accidentally brushes the hot camera bulb against her dress. It melts a hole! Undaunted she changes her outfit and soon the dress is back in circulation with fashionable trim accenting the entire bodice and covering the crater.
My mom didn’t only sew “bread and butter” clothes. A prairie dress for my sister to wear to serve dinner at a church function, a clown outfit for brother Bill and numerous Native American costumes with appropriate trim and decorations for me to wear during my ten year stint at Franke Park Day Camp pow-wows.
For all the sewing she did, the sewing projects that caused her fits is making doll clothes for my Barbie’s. Sewing on that small of scale tried her patience. As she would remark to me, “I’d rather be sewing for you than them.”
My parents and younger siblings moved to Indianapolis in 1978 at the time I graduated from college. Our fabric shopping ventures become a rarity. Although I can sew on a machine, I find it difficult to sew straight, preferring to embroider, quilt and restore. I cherish the outfits my mom made me that I’ve kept all these years: several dresses and a denim jacket sporting buttons from her father’s overalls come to mind.
As we celebrate our wonderful, talented, loving mothers this weekend, I pause and reflect on all of the simple times we shared and continue to share together and hold those memories dear.
Lois Eubank is the owner of Born Again Quilts restoration studio and quilt gallery.
If you are interested in vintage patterns from the 1940s to 1980s visit her T-W-TH from 5:30 to 7 p.m. or Saturdays 9:15am to 2 p.m. BAQ is located at 4005 South Wayne Ave, Fort Wayne.