Thursday, May 01, 2014

Sepia Saturday #226: A Long White Dress




My mother looks so stiff in her formal gown. She loved dressing up but hated social occasions. I know she'd have a drink before attending one of those "do's" as she called them. It was the only time I saw her abuse alcohol or more aptly use alcohol as a crutch. Most of her drinking was of the companion variety. My Dad loved his whiskey but he rarely drank alone: Mother was always on duty as the designated listener while Dad, whiskey fueled, Black Cat cigarette burning down between his fingers, ranted on about politics or recounted highlights of his war, the great war, WW1. If for some reason Mother wasn't around, my sister or me got the dreaded "ear" duty and had to sit quietly while Dad held forth. Like everyone else, I'd give a King's ransom now to listen to those stories but back then for a squirmy, cooped-up 10 year old, listening was Hell.

Here's my sister with her friends in formal dress ready for a prom of some kind. My mother sewed Eilleen's long dress and the whole household was draped in pieces of brocade and clouds of chiffon or netting as she got the sewing done. She sewed beautifully, much of it by hand, fitting the darts perfectly and matching the pattern pieces. For a year or so, during her single days, she worked for a tailor and learned a lot about "assembling a garment" as our home ec teachers used to say. I learned to sew both from her and at school but was never good at it. Our first sewing project was an apron and some kind of hat, on which we embroidered our names. By the time mine was done, the seams had been ripped out and re-done so many times, the apron was in tatters and the embroidered hat was grimy from handling, as I sewed and re-sewed the cursed thing. The funky starched hat was a relic from the past, even in the 50's. It reminded me of a waitress hat that Lucille Ball might wear, pinned in the hair. Thinking back I shudder with loathing for the thing and remember hating bringing it to class to compare with the other girls who did a pretty good job of the embroidery. 

With all that misery in my past coming from creating a hat, you wouldn't think I'd find this hat store and hat making school in Kyoto very interesting. But I thought the hats were wonderful and stood for a long time, admiring them through the window! And the idea of hat school, I thought CAPtivating! Forgive me, I couldn't help that.  Hat makers call themselves "Millinery Artists" - what a great title. I couldn't find a link for this school on-line so if you're interested in attending, you'll have to go to Kyoto, like I did. What a great excuse!



Clap your cymbals together and dance over to Sepia Saturday where the stories flow. 

23 comments:

  1. I wasn't bad at sewing, but I wasn't enough of a perfectionist to get the best grades on my Home Ec sewing projects. I figured it didn't hurt to have a little crooked sewing that nobody but the teacher would notice.

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  2. I was dreadful at sewing. I blamed it on being left handed and finding the machine awkward.
    I love hats and can always be found wandering in if I see a milliner's shop!

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    1. You lefties have fierce challenges. I can't imagine even threading a needle with the left.

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  3. My Mom taught me how to sew, but like Postcardy, I wasn't patient enough - always hurrying to get finished. Luckily the things I sewed held together & looked pretty good on the outside. I wasn't my sister, however. She finished off the inside seams of her clothes so well, we always swore she could wear them inside out & no one would know But sewing costumes for the Golden Chain Theatre was right up my alley. If things didn't fit quite right after the initial sewing was done, we used staples, safety pins, & duct tape to make 'em fit as costumes were usually finished within minutes of curtain time - well, almost, anyway. Exciting times!

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    1. Duct tape!!! This changes everything. Your sister sounds very talented and patient.

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  4. I love the picture of your mother. She might not look happy but she does look glamorous. Eillene's dress is beautiful and looks so professional. Your father sounds like quite a character.
    I'm not too interested in hats but I had a really nice milliner neighbor in Echo Park (L.A.).
    Glad you're back- I assume you are.
    Barbara

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    1. Mother needed one more whiskey before the shutter clicked...she would have smiled then, I hope.

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  5. I always enjoy how we each wander off in such interesting branches from Alan's theme....quite lovely long white gowns too!

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  6. I love the party dresses of the 50s. My mother was an excellent seamstress, so I didn't have to be. I did learn and did sew, but when Momma died, I gave up sewing because I needed her to help me figure out what I did wrong. My first sewing project in Home Ec was a v-neck vest of beige corduroy. Don't be jealous.

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  7. How wonderful to have such a talented mother who could sew neatly by hand. I had a perfect mental picture of her surrounded by clouds of chiffon as she beavered away at her creations.

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    1. Our house was small...you could barely move in all that fabric.

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  8. Great post. The back stories behind the photos always improve the original image. I wish I could reclaim "ear duty" too.

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  9. ear duty. What a lovely phrase. I must try that out on my children So and so, it's your turn to come and do ear duty. Come and have lunch with me !! A most entertaining post.

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  10. Love your mother's gloves. So elegant. Will be using ear duty as a phrase from now on. Thanks for that. :)

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  11. A long white dress! Now why didn't I think of that.
    Nice post.

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  12. Lovely dresses and hats...an almost lost art, sewing gowns or any fancy dresses like that. These weeks I have been busy at my sewing machine taking in some favorite blouses that are too large after all my weight loss, it was years ago I learned to sew with darts and alterations. Now I am glad to use that skill once again but I suspect not as perfectly as your Mom or my late aunt did. Ear duty is a good expression. I know I would love to hear tales that were told back when I did not pay attention and those old voices are long silenced

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  13. I took sewing in junior and high school. I did ok. Sewed a lot of my clothes for years and for my children. Don't much sew any more though.

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  14. No home ec for me: I learned to sew at home from my mom (who could sew but wasn't fabulous at it) and through trial and error. Your sister's dress looks beautiful. Lucky you to have a seamstress mom. My grandmother was a milliner before she married my grandfather. I don't have any details or photographs, though, unfortunately. I like how you integrated your personal memories with this post, Helen. Very interesting.

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  15. Who doesn't love long white dresses. These are great photos. That orange and pink hat certainly is a show stopper.

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  16. [i surprise myself by saying this but........} Those Berets Are rather Cool! and So Are Your Sister & Your Mum.

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  17. Must be a week for mothers who can sew!
    She taught me well but I don't do it enough to be at her level. She's still sewing beautifully at almost 80.

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  18. Since I can barely stitch a button half decently,
    anyone who can sew has my respect.
    These hats look great!!
    Kyoto, you said, eh?!?
    :D

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