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A Stitch in Time

by Gael Montana
"Tonsorial Artist and Hill Country Contrarian"
Comfort, Texas
There are uncounted treasures that have vanished with the popularity of dime-a-dozen super stores and half-price outlets.

Not so terribly long ago we would take our family's measure and fit them out ourselves. We’d whip up clothing and accessories on our old Singer or White or whatever machine our Grandmother used, taught us on and left behind for us to continue with. We could send for the patterns in the Farmers Almanac and buy yards of fabric at Vogt's drygood store on Main. Perhaps a little bonnet board to shore up the harder working plackets and buttonholes, if needed. Personally, I swore by Mrs. Bierman's buttonholes. Once the garment was marked you could leave it with her and she'd charge a quarter per button. They were of better quality than any made in the commercial markets, I can tell you. When the collar wore out on our shirts, we took them to City Cleaners and Mrs. Murphy would turn them for us or mend our rips and/or worn out knees and elbows. Erna or Eugene blocked my crochet and knitting for mere pennies and there was always conversation and a few good jokes floating around the front desk, especially if Bernice was there.

One of the last bastions of self-expression that isn't illegal, unhealthy or just plain dangerous is the act of dressing ourselves. Many winters ago I made several of my friends velvet dresses. They had that cozy, heavy, ‘hangy’ feeling and I wore mine out before spring. Everyone has seen similar dresses on the rack at various department stores, but they just aren't the same. Mine were simple; no fuss scoop neck jumper-type dresses that looked good on most everyone and didn't cost an arm and a leg to make. My friend, Mick, designs and makes wonderful frocks and men’s' & women’s' casual wear that can't be found anywhere else. They're suited to full-bodied women and men and enhance the positive aspect of that fullness. In these complicated times it's rather hard to find clothing on the rack that suits anyone who isn't either rail thin or XXX22+. The selections aren't particularly attractive or thoughtful, either. To make matters worse, the latest 'reality' TV show involving fashion design features a kind of neurotic bunch of metrosexual individuals who appear to design for shock value as opposed to flattering fit and comfort of movement.

Another seamstress friend of mine bought a suitcase at an estate sale that I'll never forget. It contained a collection of hand-made clothing belonging to a long forgotten male child. There was an example of each piece of his clothing spanning the years from infancy to adolescence when he earned his 'long pants'. Each specimen was lovingly hand sewn and had been fitted to the child...from the baptism gown, soakers, one-sie, sailor suit, knickers and finally the corduroy long pants and blazer. Each shy little shirt, vest, jacket and knitted sweater, sock and tweed hat became more elegant and finely turned out as the years went by. By the time the long pants and blazer came along Mother was an expert.

Speaking of treasures, there was a young cowboy who would bring his felt to hang on the barbershop wall in the spring and leave it there all the hot summer. In the fall, he’d swap it out with his summer straw. One winter he ripped a chunk out of the felt's brim chasing calves through the brush and had sewn it back together while in the saddle. It looked pretty darn good and almost fit exactly where it was supposed to. He knew how much I admired that old hat and had his Mother send it along to my shop to hang for good when he married up and quit that lonesome work to raise a family. That old hat is hanging on my wall somewhere, still. I guess that's a profession that still allows a bit of sewing if you're an adventurous soul.

Life in the fast lane makes for little time to engage in these rites of passage anymore. All we need now is a few minutes, a shopping cart, a little piece of plastic and we're outfitted with the rest of our kind in mostly identical duds. On the other hand, where would we get our rags without these huge factory style rubber-stampers? Think of the huge garage sales, thrift stores, landfills...but I digress. At least we can be thankful that corsets and bustles are no longer the rage.
© Gael Montana
'The View from Under the Bus' - August 3, 2007 Column

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