What my mother taught me…

Friday November 14th is my Mom’s birthday, and instead of sending her a card, I thought I would  write a little public declaration of love and thankfulness for  everything she shared- or parts of what  she shared that make up so much of who I am today. Last week I was at a  local Vancouver Fibre Shed meeting- a chance to get a bunch of fibre folks together and talk about how to support each other and make a  stronger community that supports local fibre production on every level.

One of the women there- someone a few years older then me, commented she thought she was the last generation who wore homemade clothes, but I said, I did too! My mom made  many, many of the clothes I wore- not everything, but certainly several winter coats- all my dresses ( sometimes with matching doll dresses), several jackets, skirts, prom dresses, my wedding dress, a number of bridesmaids dresses I wore and more…. mom was at her sewing machine a lot. And she was a good sales person too. At a young age she sold me on the concept that it was better to wear something totally unique- something  she had made- then suffer the social death and mortification of walking into a party and being in the same outfit as someone else. This struck home particularly because I was such a late bloomer- and the mental  image of being side by side with a friend who actually had a figure to fill out a shape was horrifying to imagine! I am of the age where I remember in the 80’s when suddenly labels mattered.  My mom had labels she put inside her clothes, but those didn’t count. Now everyone was wearing labels on the  pockets, outside the garment- and they spoke of a specific  ( usually high) cost that was spent to acquire the  garment. We didn’t spend that kind of money on clothing in our house- pay to be a billboard? I can hear my mother say. Before grade 9 started- a new school and a time to reinvent oneself- Mom and I spent  a lot of time pouring over pattern books and going to fabric stores and building me what I think of now as my first modular wardrobe,   velour  genie pants with jersey cuffs tight from the knee down. big  dolman sleeved sweatshirts, with over layer vests. It wasn’t preppie, it wasn’t goth, or new wave or rocker- it was non identifiable as far as  labeling which social group I  belonged to! It was also my first wardrobe that was comfy like sweats, but looked dressy and could go anywhere- at least anywhere a 14 year old could go. I still make clothing with this in mind. Comfort, style, non-label social identifiers  other then “unique and personalized style”. My mom  did not fret too much when I began what I now know is “clothing hacking” – that act of cutting up old clothes to make new clothes- I  first started doing this about the age 14. Alas I wasn’t very good at it and I had a short attention span, so often walked away from projects shortly after the cutting up stage… But Mom never got too angry, she would help me piece things together, taught me the fundamentals of sewing and pattern drafting and put up with the home ec teachers who I had that did everything  backwards to the way she did it- I learned how to sew from my Mom, but most importantly I learned how to embrace having a personal style from my Mom. That I could make up the style of what I wanted to wear, make it myself, be proud of the fact that what I was wearing was unique- and not for sale in any store. Some thought of homemade as low status then- a hold over from when only the wealthy could afford to have others make their clothes, we have come so far from that now, to even have the skills and the time to make your own clothes sets one a part. The value of working with my hands,  knowing fibres and what was appropriate for what kind of garment, having ease with a sewing machine and a piece of cloth, wearing what I make- and loving the unique look I can have that is timeless- and  classless-  that is a part of what my mom gave me by making my clothes as a child, and teaching me the confidence to be my own person, not a slave to the fashions of others. Thank Mom! and Happy Birthday.  and belated apologies for the old suede coats of dads that got cut up…

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