Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Queen Mother - A sewing backstory



Sometimes, almost as striking as the woman herself, can be the way others are transformed in her presence. Can you feel the goose flesh tingling in the photographer? Clearly, he reveres this woman.

That's my grandmother, Pell. Pell. Isn't that the coolest nickname? It's a blend of hers and my grandfather's names, christened WAY before the Brangelinas and Bennifers of the world spawned. I always thought it sounded so avant garde, like Wallis Simpson.

And, yes, the photographer (my grandfather) reveres her. Everyone does. She just has that royal thing about her. Feminine, yet fierce. She does only what she wants to, and those around her are only too happy to help her reality along.

Remember when Rudy checked for scuffs on her shoes because Whitley raised an eyebrow at her foot tapping? "The true mark of a lady is a clean heel". That was me with my grandmother. I watched elbows, tilted my chin up, generally tried to emulate the grace I found oozing out of this woman. In the fourth grade, my grandmother gave me handwriting lessons, and I was geeked beyond happy. And yes, it's quite lovely to this day, thank you. She taught us how to greet dinner guests properly. She also taught us the importance of being free-spirited. Only last year she burned her leg on my dad's motorcycle when she jumped on it in her golf shorts and keds. Like I said... fierce.

And like all fierce women- she sews. I've only been witness to some of her later projects, but they are exquisite. I've only recently gotten up the courage to ask her if she'd pass along any sewing stuff she may have stashed. I always love reading about other blogger's history pieces, like Karen's deep stash fabric. My grandmother made this dress for my daughter, the collar is lace from her wedding veil.

Sewing was always a strange thing to me- aside from my dad's uniform patches, I didn't see a sewing machine around my house. And sadly, it never occurred to me that sewing could be learned. I figured it was like math, you either knew it or you didn't. I'd heard the legendary stories of my grandmother's sewing. During a vacation at their house when I was about 11, I asked my grandmother if she would make me a dress. She replied that we would make the dress. I knew better than to show any sign of disappointment, but I really doubted my ability to make this a real dress. I'd seen the machine in her sewing room as I lurked from the doorway- she'd never let me touch that thing.

I remember looking for a pattern. I was all about the fabric. I just wanted to pick the prettiest fabric, and I recall my grandmother guiding me toward a little rack. Now I realize she must have been steering me away from some silky prints or some difficult chiffon I would have naturally been drawn to. I picked a pink and purple teeny floral printed quilting cotton. The dress pattern had buttons all the way up the back, with a low scoop neck, full skirt, and cap sleeves. I wish I had pictures. I can see it so vividly. I also remember grandmother's expression at seeing all those buttons. Now I have a better idea on that, too.

And not only did she let me use the machine, I pretty much remember doing the whole dress by myself. I couldn't believe she was letting me use this stuff! The serrated tracing wheel (won't it cut through?) and the seam ripper amazed me. And the dress was actually nice. But when I got home from vacation, it was back to real life, and sewing was never a part of it.

This two week period was lost in the recesses of my mind, only slightly nagging me when I went shopping looking for the perfect *fill in the blank*, and came home disappointed, wishing that I could make my own. Finally, 20 years after the dress with the buttons down the back, I remembered that I could.

9 comments:

The Slapdash Sewist said...

That is a gorgeous picture! I love that she let you choose a complicated pattern (with manageable fabric) as a first project. I too wish I had some of my beloved childhood garments still.

melissa said...

What a fantastic and vivid story! Thanks for sharing. I bet your grandmother is so proud to see you sewing now...

Elaray said...

What a lovely story! Your grandmother sounds like a treasure!

Lindsay T said...

Lovely post. Reminds me of my beloved grandmother.

Lindsay T said...

Regarding your question about the chain to my Chanel jacket: I hand-sewed it to the lining using double strand waxed thread, catching every third chain loop; and no, it does not catch on delicate fabrics. The bouclé, now that catches on everything.

Little Hunting Creek said...

What a beautiful picture! How lucky you are to have it. I miss my grandma. She taught me how to sew too. Your grandma was a special person, how nice that she let you pick something with all those buttons!

Carolyn (cmarie12) said...

What a wonderful story. What a great memory...thank you for sharing it with us.

Karen said...

Pell is one seriously hot grandma.

I love that she let you choose the pattern, and yes, don't we ALL know how she felt with all those buttons down the back?

Thanks for sharing. All the women in my family sewed (including my mom, when pregnant with me) but it really wasn't something they ever shared. I picked it up on my own but then I still inherited their stashes.

50sgal said...

I love that photo of your grandmother, it is really inspiring me here in 1955. Nice post.