I’ve always called it “race memory”, but this is what I found when I googled it.
For as long as I can remember, I felt compelled to sew. To construct garments. To take pieces of fabric and sew them together into something.
The first thing I remember making was a vest for my cat, Irving. I was probably 6 or 7. I don’t know why, but I felt strongly that Irving needed a vest. I found a scrap of upholstery material. I can see it my mind’s eye as clear as yesterday. It was a medium gray brocade and I draped it around Irving to measure for fit.
I cut “arm” holes in it and sewed on a button and made a buttonhole. Then I found some purple thread and embroidered his initials on it. “IP” Irving Pritchard. He was quite handsome in his cat vest.
Then he had kittens. And we had to change his name to Irvinene. And retire the vest. A cat nursing kittens in a monogrammed vest was just wrong.
Shortly after, I moved to doll clothes. But they were hard because the dolls were smaller than Irving and they were hard and stiff.
I high school, I started to make my own clothes. Like this little number.
In the ’70s, I made groovy disco outfits out of Quiana. (TM)
My mother sewed beautifully. She made most of her clothes, sewed for others and made most of what my brother and I wore when we were kids.
She made Betsy Wetsy a matching jumper and blouse.
My mother’s mother, Mamie, sewed as well. She sewed for a living in a baby pants factory. I’m sure she was paid by the piece, which has long been illegal in this country. I suppose it was a bit of a sweat shop. She made those plastic lined pants with snaps up each side that babies used to wear over their cloth diapers.
Anyway, they would give the workers scraps of leftover fabric that were too small to be of use. And Mamie would make all kinds of things from those scraps. Like clothes for Betsy Wetsy. With no patterns or anything. I would just leave Betsy with her for a few nights and she would come home with a new wardrobe. Like this…
Okay, Betsy looks a little possessed by now, but she’s as old as I am.
Mamie also made that pillow top Betsy’s sitting on out of leftover bits of ribbon.
Mamie’s mother, Hulda, didn’t just sew. She spun raw cotton into yarn and knit (knitted?) it into socks and stuff. I guess. With this spinning wheel, which is probably my most prized worldly possession. That’s her sun bonnet there and a little one she made for me. And her cotton cards, that still have little bits of ancient cotton in them. And the bale hook she used to pick up the bales of cotton.
This is Hulda in her bonnet.
I continued to make my clothes for many years to come. And sewed for others for money, but quickly got out of that business. I tend to procrastinate and then hate the person who had hired me.
I even made a wedding dress once for a young lady who was desperate. Her friend decided that her wedding gift would be to make her dress. Bride bought pattern and fabric and friend’s machine died and she didn’t have the money to fix it. A friend of hers begged me to do it so I said I would for $100 and no guarantees. It turned out fine even though she had huge boobs and I have never sewed for huge boobs. And she couldn’t come for any fittings except the final one. And my cat slept on the fabric/dress the throughout the entire process because my apartment was so small.
I continued for many years after to make my clothes. Costumes, shower curtains, throw pillows, recovered furniture many times over. Curtains, valances, you name it. I even made dust ruffle for the bed. Never again.
I made these groovy picnic outfits for the Dream Boat and me.
Then it just stopped. I think my eyesight worsened quickly, plus my sewing room turned into that room where you stick shit when company is coming, etc.
But I think it’s time to reclaim the space and get back to it.