My Mother, Opal, was the youngest of eleven children, her father died when she was a toddler and her mother was left on a remote farm in the country to raise her children with no income. Opal and her sister’s dresses and her brother’s shirts were handmade from flour sack material. The manual sewing machine with the foot treadle was a valued possession. There were no “store bought” clothes and the holes in the soles of their shoes were patched with newspaper. During her childhood my mother’s paper dolls were cutouts from the Sears and Roebuck catalogue. She told me she would pour over the beautiful dresses in the catalogue and dream of someday having a “real” dress.
At eighteen, when I was two years old, she married my factory assembly line stepfather who already had three daughters. So, as her mother her now electric sewing machine was her salvation. Not only did she make all the clothes for the five of us but she constantly altered hand-me-downs from cousins and even her own dresses for our school clothes. I guess in all those years of studying the Sears catalogue she picked up a few fashion tips and tried to make our dresses more than just functional.
I remember in the ninth grade I was going to a school dance and she made me a pink gingham dress she altered by adding a huge matching fabric bow that draped over one shoulder. She was so proud of it. I was too until I got to the dance and all the other girls had beautiful dresses which were, of course, store bought. Not one boy asked me dance the entire night. I felt like the ugly duckling. I blamed it on the homemade dress.
When I got home, she asked me “Did you look as good as the other girls?” I told her I did. But from then on, I hated hand me downs and homemade dresses.