My First Cloth Memory
I remember vividly my first sewing lesson with my Grandma Eva in Portland, OR at about age six or seven. I loved doing and making things from the time I was small, and Grandma was so patient and kind with me. I got a much-needed respite from my hyper-tense, 1950s Mom and my two younger siblings. Mom was utterly overwhelmed with the three of us by the time I was six, and rather hard on us, too. So sending me off to spend a month each summer with my Grandma Eva and Granda Charlie was simply heaven to me…peaceful, loving, fun.
Grandma taught me so much in her gentle, quiet way. She was an expert seamstress and made all of my mother’s clothes, and mine when I was little. She worked at a fine women’s clothing store in Portland called Ungar’s, where the women would come in for new dresses and the seamstresses would drape bolts of fabric over them. They were not allowed to do any basting in the creation of a new garment. Designed and completed using only pins!
So Grandma one day turned her remarkable skills on me, and patiently taught me to sew. I remember at the end of the first day Grandma said to me: “That’s very nice, honey, but now I want you to rip it all out and we will start all over again tomorrow.” And so I did! This might seem harsh, but I understood that Grandma just wanted me to learn to do sew as beautifully as I possibly could. And indeed I did. I became one of those seamstresses whose garments could be worn inside out.
My expertise was not appreciated by the people in my life as a young woman. In college, my boyfriend and later my husband, could not understand the labored hours I would spend making a beautiful formal, or some of my later special projects. That perfectionism ingrained by my Grandmother seemed a curse for a long time, and it is only in the past few years that I have reveled in my ability to turn out a beautiful project that celebrated that heritage of technically excellent handwork.