Browsing at JoAnn’s Fabrics last summer, I spotted an apron in the sale section. I didn’t want an apron, but I was drawn to this one! On that apron were printed dress patterns from my girlhood! I carry strong memories of pleasant time spent with my mother as we searched for the right pattern, and then examined our fabric options to make clothes for me or my sisters.
My mother, Marie, had a flare for fashion and she appreciated fine fabrics. She sewed most of our clothes when her four children were youngsters. Mother also created several beautiful formal gowns for me using velvet and silk. (I mentioned brocade in my quilt title because that’s how I picture the gold full-skirted dress in the center of the Simplicity collage.) When I was a teen, mother taught me to sew using these patterns—here, in this apron, was a fragment of my history.
This collage of Simplicity patterns ranged from 1948 to 1968. I was born in 1945, graduated from college in 1969.This twenty year period was a formative time for me. The lines, the draping, the colors and the skirt shapes or lengths, as well as the hairstyles of the sketches all felt familiar to me. I especially admired the composition of the grouping which finally included a woman of color. Each dress had been carefully chosen to balance the visual compilation—even the colors of the dresses were artfully arranged. Below each dress was the year that pattern appeared. I bought that sale apron despite the fact that it was printed on polyester—that is a measure of how taken I was with this collage.
Mother and I bonded over our mutual interest in creating with fabric—actually, I believe this appreciation is in my genes! To start this quilt project, I trimmed the area from around the graphic. But I had to piece the two bottom corners to make the rectangle you now see. After choosing a red grunge fabric to frame the center collage, I sought additions.
The feedsack print was laying out because I’d recently discovered it at a thrift shop—I liked how the red and the blue in the feedsack worked with the colors of the Simplicity dresses. We didn’t know about feedsacks in my household, but I have grown fond of their quirky personalities. Two other fabrics soon turned up: one was a collage featuring birds, flowers and several simple geometric repeats. I cut this and used it in sections. The fabric with the large-scale hibiscus flowers on the beige background added more variety. Additionally, hibiscus flowers grew all around our neighborhood in Miami Springs, Florida where I grew up. I’d chosen this fabric from Betty Buckley’s estate sale—it held good memories for that reason too.
Rather than merely frame my collage, I decided to look for the type of patterns my mother would sew when she was sewing for us in the 1950s. I already had several of these on hand for the scrapbook about my mother I was planning. As a transition to those patterns I had the brilliant idea of including my mother and father’s wedding photo.
Their wedding was June 6, 1944 shortly before my father was shipped overseas to the Philippines in WW II. Dad wears his khaki army dress uniform. Mother wore a light blue linen suit with a narrow skirt—fabric was rationed during the war. Marie wore a gardenia corsage and gardenias in her hair. She carried a white clutch purse and wore the popular spectator pumps of the era. I’m sure she and her aunt, who raised her, spent much time and energy deciding on her ensemble. They were married in the Congregational Church on Miami Beach.
More details about designing We Sewed It
I found I could add interest to the whole by adding diagonal lines and accent colors around the patterns I’d chosen. I am especially attached to the linen fabric with the varied thread colors used around my parent’s photo. A few years ago I found several items of clothing made with this fabric. All were new and had been donated to the salvation army thrift shop by Coldwater Creek. Some of the clothes fit me and others I’ve cut to make use of this appealing fabric. (For any textile enthusiast, this linen, woven with two different thread colors, is similar to “shot cotton” where the warp threads are one color and the weft threads are a complementary color—often producing a shimmering affect in certain light situations.) Can you see the shimmer of the linen threads here?
Your educated eye will notice I’ve used “coping strips”, at times, to make the sections fit together and to add visual interest. One example: the small scale print used in two spots. The ombre border keeps the eye moving along the outer planes before next examining the graduated gold dots found in the binding.
Of course, all this was pieced on my vintage Singer Featherweight 221—now working for five decades for me. I used my favorite batting, Mountain Mist’s Cream Rose. It is 100% cotton and a mere 1/8” thick, so it drapes well and quilts easily. My machine quilting adds a variety of textures throughout the quilt. I used a walking foot to sew the straight lines. Most of the quilting was free motion quilting using my vintage 1980s Bernina 930.
The final step for We Sewed It: From Feedsacks to Silks and Brocades, 1948-1978 was adding the label. My wall hanging quilt documents one chapter in one sewer’s life as I play with fabrics and honor our foremothers who carried on the sewing traditions vital to life.
Postscript: One of the reasons to study material culture and fashion history, in particular, is the evidence we find of inclusion and exclusion from the norms of society. By 1961-68 some pattern companies began to include some women of color pictured in the drawings for the patterns. There is little evidence of inclusion of women and girls with a variety of body shapes who might also be home sewers using their patterns.