Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Some Personal History

After attending a reception held in honor of my brother and his lovely new bride Sunday it got me thinking along the lines of family history. Dear blogger Paula G also encouraged me to pass on some of my history that I shared with her. Add to this that I am at a kink in the road of my sewing pursuits and it all seemed to make sense. So here is a little bit about Moi:

Three things play a big part in my sewing "history." One is my dear deceased Mom. Next is my sainted Grandmother Mamee, and lastly the Carmelite nuns of Spain. I will deal with each and it is a pleasure to do so. First my Mamee...

My family is from New Orleans, Louisiana, and as one of eight children who were born in the first 12 years of my parents marriage, I spent a lot of time with my grandmother, Mamee. I went to her home from Memorial Day to Labor day from as far back as I can remember to the summer before she passed away. She was an incredible seamstress and never lacked some sort of needlework in her hands. Idleness was the devil's workshop, you know! I have clear memories of beautiful little daygowns, of the finest batiste, strewn with tiny tucks and granitos, that she had made. She would pack these up along with knitted and crocheted "saques" that we took with us to local retailers. I would be in tow as she pitched her wares and they were always purchased. New Orleans, like the rest of the deep South, has always had a love affair with heirloom sewing, and her work was an easy sell. I was mesmerized as I watched her deal and haggle with merchants and as I watched her crochet, knit, hand stitch, or sew at the machine. She could haggle as well as she could sew.
We had a ritual. At the end of every summer she would always decide that I needed some "decent" clothing. Decent to my Mamee was church worthy, Sunday best clothing, THAT FIT, not the barely there summer shorts and tops I wore with my barefoot feet in the pre-air conditioning days of Lousiana heat. No, these were clothes that would turn the heads of those in St. John's Cathedral. Clothes that made people say to my mom, "where did you get that?" So, toward the end of the summer, she would open the doors of her "fabric closet" and would tell me to go in and pick out what I liked. This was nirvana! 5 years old and pulling whatever I wanted from a stashaholic's goodies ! Do you see how this all started? I would pull out fabrics and trims. What ensued after that was just sheer magic. She would move her tape up and down my little body doing some sort of mathematical calculations. Then she would start cutting with those giant shears. Patterns? They were all in her head, easily making their way from her mind to the giant shears. After that I was pulled close to her side and allowed to watch as she "whipped" my choices into real clothing at her old treadle. She pumped. I watched. It was all just so magical. When complete, I would head home to Lafayette, La. with my amazing new wardrobe, hoping to come back the next summer for more of her magic.

I will always treasure my time with my Mamee. She gave me  the passion of sewing. Many can give you the knowledge and the skill but only a Mamee can give you the passion. I hope she is watching from above and sees all I make. I hope even more that she approves....more on my other inspirations later....Bunny

Kelly asked if I still have any of the clothes Mamee had made. I only wish. In such a large family we wore our clothes till they either fell apart or outgrown and then were passed on.

Another tidbit about Mamee: she made all my underwear and my Mom's bras till she passed away. We would go to Maison Blanche in New Orleans to shop for batiste and then come home and get measured again. These were pretty little panties with double layers of bias batiste from waist front to waist back. The sides were on the straight of grain. These weren't sweet little bubbles, but slim fitting totally comfortable panties, the same she made my mom. How I remember these details is beyond me but I do. For one thing my mom would always point out to me what a beautiful job she did and why. For another, I was at her side devouring every detail. I found it amazing that she made my mom's bras. I can remember those being all cotton and having circular stitching around the cups. You know, that 1950 pointed bra Madonna look. Lycra wasn't around back then... Bunny

10 comments:

  1. Interesting! I lived in New Orleans from age 16 to 22 and that city left an indelible mark on me. The N'Awlins appreciation for handiwork is why I make heirloom dresses for my niece, though they pale in comparison to your work, Bunny. Do you have that Louisiana lilt when you talk?

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  2. Not at all! I later lived my teen years in Massachusetts. Between Louisiana and Mass. was a 3 yr stint in Puerto Rico where I think learning Spanish wiped out my accent for good. I don't even have a Mass. accent. Seems odd not to have any particular accent but I don't think I do. That is so interesting that you lived down there too, Lindsay. I guess when you come right down to it we all have more in common that we know.

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  3. Oh what a wonderful story! It's no wonder that her passion and skill was passed along to you. Do you still have any of the clothes that she made for you? If so, I'd love to see pictures one day! I also crochet and made the christening gown in which both of my boys were christened.- Kellie

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  4. Kelly, I so wish I had some of those clothes. But at that time, we wore things till they fell apart or they were passed on. Another tidbit: she made all of my underwear!

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  5. Bunny, excellent post! A beautiful tribute to your Mamee's love and talents.

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  6. Thanks, Paula. She was very special. Thanks for encouraging me to write some of my personal history. There is definitely more to come.

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  7. Bunny, just in case you don't make it back to my blog for a few days, I wanted to pop over and tell you...you are a genius! The pinstitching idea is fantastic. I think it would look so sweet on that dress (on everything, actually). I'm going to practice on some scraps and see if I can make it work with that fabric. I was going to take Carol Ahles book back to the library this very day but I renewed it instead!

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  8. What a story! I am also from Louisiana (Shreveport in the north) and my grandmother taught me to sew as well. She never sewed with patterns either and could make the finest dresses just by looking at a newspaper ad!! I don't have any of those clothes either as my Mom gave everything to friends after I outgrew them. Thats what you do in the south!! Your work is fabulous and please keep posting about those fabulous inherited laces!!

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  9. Bunny, I loved reading your story of your Mamee. I too remember watching my grandmother sew. It was the late 70s and early 80s so the styles were alot different, and no heirloom. But is still instilled the passion in me. I wish I could remember more, like the trips to Krauss (I think) on Canal St.
    Kathy

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  10. What a fabulous legacy, Bunny! No wonder you love sewing. I've long wondered about your sewing roots. Thanks for the little peek into your childhood.

    I'm curious about the underpants. Did you ever try making them? I'm straining my brain to picture them, bias at the front, straight of grain at the sides.

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