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And 'sew' it went

by Wanda Orton
Wanda Orton

Scarlett O'Hara transformed emerald green velvet draperies into a stunning outfit.

That's fiction.

I once had a dress made out of a tablecloth -- and that's the truth.

Hosting a kitchen shower for a future bride, my mother aimed for a casual, country look in the table settings and decorations.

Guests admired the red and white, polka-dot tablecloth she provided for the festive occasion. Where did she buy it?

Mother didn't actually buy a tablecloth. She bought a few yards of fabric at Sears, where she worked, and created a tablecloth.

The shower was held in the Ladies Lounge of the Humble Oil & Refining Co. Community House, a popular place for parties. This room had everything any group would need for a party, including a long serving table, candelabra and vases, plus an adjacent kitchenette for preparing refreshments.

Yes, I know. I'm beginning to write like a society page editor, but I can't help it. Used to be one.

The day after the kitchen shower, my mother took another look at the tablecloth and decided her daughter could wear it.

The sleeveless frock that emerged from her antiquated Singer sewing machine was designed with a cowl neckline and a slightly gathered skirt. White polka dots in the 100 percent cotton fabric stood out like stars against a crimson sky.

Enough already. I guess you can see why I didn't last long as a society page scribe. Anyway, I loved that redandwhitepolkadottablecloth (got that?) dress and often wore it to work. It was a staple in my closet, holding its own with the storeboughts from downtown Texas Avenue in Baytown.

Most of all I loved that dress because it was the last item of clothing my mother ever made for me. Not many months after the kitchen shower, she died in a car wreck.

As the time went on, I gained weight and outgrew the polka dot dress, but I wanted to hang on to it. It had made the transition from daily apparel to family keepsake.

Years later, in the process of moving to Fredericksburg from Baytown, boxes of belongings got shuffled around, mislabeled and misplaced, and the red and white polka dot tablecloth dress accidentally ended up in a Goodwill bin.

Honest to goodness, I'd donate a dozen new dresses to Goodwill just to get that old one back.

But like my mother -- the "hostess/seamstress with the mostest" --would say: "Never cry over spilt milk."

At least my dress got "spilt" for a good cause, going to a non-profit, charitable organization.

Wearing an ex-tablecloth didn't seem all that unusual to me, because, growing up, I had worn my share of former flour sacks.

Women used to buy flour in large, colorful, cotton bags, and they would empty the flour into a canister, shake the last specks of flour out of the bag and wash, dry and iron it.

Then they would create shirts, blouses, skirts -- whatever could be worn -- from the flour sacks.

The late Ellen Smith of Dayton once told me about her mother making a dress out of a nylon parachute. The project was motivated by the fact that Ellen needed a fancy dress for a church banquet.

"It was light." Ellen said, "but she used my dad's fishing weights in the hem. They were very small but held the dress down."

Her mother fancied up the top part of the gown with a string of sequins. "It was very pretty to me," Ellen said. As the old saying goes: "Make do with what you have, and you won't do without."

Obviously our mothers' generation was into recycling long before recycling was cool.


Wanda Orton Baytown Sun Columnist
"Wandering" July 1, 2015 columns

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