Once upon a time in a fairytale land far, far away, women wore pretty dresses and walked around a shimmering lake on the arms of handsome men while white-gloved young maids, with flower wreaths on their heads, wrapped pastel ribbons around a Maypole. This was an event, in Mrs. Lane’s Sleepy Southern Town, known as Mayfete and it was one of the rites of graduation. Frankly, I am surprised they didn’t have us make formations involving grecian urns a la The Music Man. I may have made up the flower wreath part.
When Mrs. Lane graduated high school, the unfortunate style of the day was Victorian influenced prairie dresses in Cotton Batiste by a company called Gunne Sax. They were very feminine, very lacy, and very thin. Standing in the average living room, not a problem. Walking around a lake being backlit by the brutal Mid-South western -dipping sun, big problem. Let’s just say they should have brought back petticoats with that fashion. I looked a lot like the dress below, except it was in Peach and not as much lace.
Mrs. Lane’s sister was more Fortunate. Her generation was still under the Jackie Kennedy style influence. Still a Kennedy at that time, as she was not yet married to Onassis, she held court in everyone’s hearts and over our style. What I’m saying to you is, my sister got a
better, er, more classic dress. She got this wonderful dress because we were very fortunate in our family to have a mother who was a sewing wizard. She made so many of our clothes that, looking back, I find it phenomenal that she ever got a break away from the sewing machine. I remember falling in love with that gorgeous dress. It had a nifty label which went with it. This was my mother’s first introduction to couturier sewing, with the multiple pattern pieces. It was created in a beautiful white satin with the effortlessly exquisite fit that the painfully constructed couturier pattern afforded. The satin was treated with extra respect and deference. Mom laid a sheet under her sewing machine to prevent any possibility that undetected dust might migrate from the floor to the dress. My sister had to get dressed standing on a sheet.
This was a pattern I had to try to find. I remembered the details, it was strapless, it had a coat with no lapels. None of these items survived a devastating fire in my parents’ home over ten years ago. My parents survived, thank goodness, but despite the Herculean efforts of my brother, his wife and family, and my aunt and uncle, not much else survived the second fire. Apparently set by thieves to cover their tracks, it reduced the house to a fireplace with piles of ashes around it.
Though the Gunne Sax had probably gone the way of the Goodwill bin many years before, the Jackie dress, most likely gone, too. But the pattern, that was a devastating thing to lose. With only the vaguest memory and a general description in my mind, I searched for the pattern on the net, and found the dress.
The loss of all Mom’s pattern were particularly devastating. Her patterns went way beyond some nice Simple jumpers. They represented even more than our personal childhood memories. You see, Mom’s pattern drawer was a chronicle of style from the 40’s to the 80’s. She had been taught to sew in Home Ec class during the depression in high school. Then, when the war began, she took the sewing equivalent of a WWII factory job, shipfitter. Her skills were unparalleled. She could copy garments, sizing them one-yearof g-rowth larger with each iteration. She adapted 40’s shorts into 70’s skorts. She could make a skirt with only a description. Need a flared skirt? Done. Need a Can-Can skirt with colorful ruffles? Done. Her pattern creation and sewing abilities were so phenomenal and I was so proud of her abilities to create something out of the pictures in her mind, that, shamelessly, we kids volunteered her for more sewing. Need stand up collars for the school play? My mom can do it! Not sure if she saw her gifts as a blessing or a curse. But we saw them as an wonderful gift.
Unfortunately, finding the pattern isn’t going to bring about a happy reunion, as the pattern, even if it were not on reserve, is beyond Mrs. Lane’s budget. Now, if only I had Mom’s pattern drafting skills.