Saturday, January 8, 2011

How Cool was My Mentor!

Over the holidays my brother forwarded this picture of my grandmother. Isn't she beautifully dressed? In the picture are missing one of my aunts and my father as they were the youngest. This picture would have been taken, we think, in the twenties or thirties and definitely in New Orleans. Let's check out the clothes.

My aunt Helen has on a dress that no doubt was made by "Mamee". Mamee was very gifted at all the handwork required of heirloom clothing. There appears to be some sort of hem stitching on the hem and the belt is run through either some Swiss beading or smocking, hard to tell. I would love to have a closeup of the details. These are types of dresses Mamee continued to make for her granchildren, moi included, until her passing in 1961.

The boys have their little white linen suits, the uniform of polite dress back in the days before air conditioning in a city of frequently oppressive heat and humidity. I wonder if she made their outfits. She certainly was capable. The one memory I have of Mamee's husband, my grandfather, is of him in a white linen suit and tie and wearing a Panama hat,  the Creole gentleman's uniform of the day.

And then their is Mamee's outfit. First, I am amazed at her figure after all those kids. I remember a very petite but softer grandmotherly figure from my childhood. Pretty impressive, Mamee! I see my narrow torso genes showing here. Check out those pointy toed shoebooties. They appear to have a nice heel and I bet they hook or lace up, very pretty. Mamee ALWAYS wore hats. Whenever she took me out as a child she always had a hat on, often a small little fascinator, and with those hats she always wore her little white gloves. I so wanted a hat with netting over my face every time I saw her as a child. Her style really inspired me. The dress is pretty classic and that collar is gorgeous. Wouldn't you love to see that up close? I wonder if she made her dress.

Mamee loved to shop in the big New Orleans department stores and took me countless times on her sprees to places like Maison Blanche. I would watch as she fingered the dresses, checked the drape over her hand, looked inside for stitch quality, and then very often would snicker about the quality. We would then go back home and start sewing. She would also take me on many fabric shopping trips and would describe the fabrics to me and show me why some were quality and some were not. She was very into quality and was not going to waste her sewing time on cheap goods, no way.

I am very blessed that I spent so much time with Mamee. At the time in Louisiana the weather and lack of AC had schools closing by Memorial day and opening back up after Labor Day, three full months! The heat was just too oppressive to learn. As you can imagine this provided long hot summers to be dealt with and in a household of eight children. all very close in age, my wise Mom would send me every single entire summer to live with Mamee.It was glorious. I would leave the loud craziness of a boisterous testosterone loaded household and spend time with a very feminine self assured woman who indulged me totally. I swear these trips kept me sane. I loved them and so treasure those memories of summer with Mamee. We would sew. I would always try to knit and never succeed. We would cross stitch. She would stitch tiny tucks on baby day gowns. It was a sewing world, just her and me.

Do you have a Mamee in your life? Who are your mentors? Would love to know........Bunny

21 comments:

  1. What a lovely post Bunny. Those were certainly more elegant times.

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  2. What lovely, lovely memories! You are so lucky to have had such a mentor in your grandmother.

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  3. Oh you were so lucky. It sounds delightful. Thank you for sharing.

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  4. What a tresure! My maternal grandmother was a professional seamstress in her young adulthood. She went to a sewing academy in Detroit and then worked in that field until the depression when she and her family moved south. I was sewing with her at the age of 3. Of all the chidren and grandchildren, I am the only one who took to it.

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  5. Mine was my maternal Great-Grand Mother, Jessie Lee; and my Grand-Aunt Willie Mae.

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  6. Great story! Thanks for sharing. Oddly, I never had such a delightful mentor even though both grandmothers sewed--a lot. And my great grandmother was alive until I was in college and she sewed a lot, too. In fact, there are stories of her going to stay with families to sew garments for the women as a way to earn money before she married. She did do some the loveliest crazy patch pillows using velvet and velveteen scraps obtained from a mill in my hometown. I have a few of those pillows and now I think I'll have to put up some pictures of them on my blog! Thanks!

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  7. I enjoyed the post and the picture. I didn't know your grandmother lived in New Orleans.

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  8. My roots are in New Orleans. I was born there as were most of my sibs. It was a different world then. I remember many times being 8-9 years old and walking from my grandmother's home to my aunt's 5 blocks away all by myself. Would you even dream of letting a child do that now? They lived in a very nice area but I can't remember what it was called. New Orleans neighborhoods have names. I do remember visiting my other cousins who lived in the Garden District and their magnificent home. New Orleans is such a special special place with a culture like no other.

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  9. What a lovely post! I am inspired to go through the old family photographs now to take a better look at the clothing! I remember a wonderful picture of my then teenage mother wearing a fabulous 1940's suit that my grandmother had copied from a B. Altman's ad. One of these days I will start my own sewing blog so that I can join the wonderful community you are part of.

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  10. Oh, well you know I love this post, being a New Orleans girl myself. That city still has such an appreciation for fine linens. Have you ever checked out Leontine Linens online? N'Awlins company, of course.

    My grandmother and my great-aunt Helen were my sewing inspirations. I think of them all the time, and my cousins tell me they are happy to see I inherited their creative genes.

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  11. What a wonderful picture of your grandmother and aunts and uncles. It was so nice of your brother to share it with you.

    My grandmother is the one who started me sewing and was a huge fan of my sewing. I am who I am today because of her. Thanks for sharing this awesome story & picture with us!

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  12. Your mentor is very cool!!!!!! What a legacy for you. I didn't have a Mamee in my life, but I sure plan to be one. Thanks so much for sharing.

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  13. How lucky were you! I am so jealous of the summers with a sewing grandmother. One of my grandmothers, who did sew, died when I was a toddler and the other didn't sew. My own mother sewed a little, but wasn't much of a mentor. We did take a sewing class together after I was out of high school and THAT is a very cool memory for me.

    I sure your Mamee would be so very proud of your sewing and that you share your wonderful talent with your grandchildren and with us in the blogging world.

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  14. What a beautiful picture and wonderful post!

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  15. I really enjoyed reading about your lovely memories. I like to imagine when I have grandchildren that I will be as wonderful with them as your Mamee was with you. Thank you for sharing such a sweet post.
    :)Deb M.

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  16. You have such a lovely way of writing that makes me wish for similar memories. I can't really remember why I started sewing. mum sewed but did not encourgage me to sew and if I used her sewing machine she complained about me touching the tension!

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  17. Now only is she a dear, but you have pictures of her. How very wonderful. Yes, in the South you have to have 3 full months of summer cause you can't get any one's attention in that heat! But they did have amazing ways of staying cool. People always looked so fresh and cool back then, I know they weren't but they sure did look it.

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  18. What a wonderful photo! Yes, I remember NO, too. My husband and I lived in Pensacola, for a few years - my daughter was born there - and before my daughter, we'd go to NO on weekends.

    You were so fortunate to have the opportunity to learn from and enjoy the relationship with your grandmother. No mentor here, but my mother sewed quite a bit, and by the time I inherited all her things at the age of 12, I knew how to use the machine and all sorts of other things.

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  19. What a wonderful post and the glorious memories it brought as my grandmother (Mawmaw) taught me to sew at a very young age. Like you I spent my summers at her home learning the basics skills of an art that has consumed me all my life! She was a dressmaker as well as a furrier with clients all over the country. My sister and I delighted in wrapping fur stoles around us and pretending that we were famous ladies. The memories will stay with me always as yours have.

    Karen

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  20. Such a lovely post, Bunny!!! So many wonderful memories are kept alive!
    My grandmother (mother of my mother) was very gifted too, but I was too young when she passed, so I have no memories of her... My mother tells me I look a lot like her though. I learned to knit with my mother, she also taught me how to make felt dolls... Those are my sweetest memories...

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  21. I somehow missed this post the first time around but wanted to say how much I enjoyed it. Your grandmother was really quite something! And she reminds me of my own dear grandmother, who took me on shopping adventures very similar to ones you describe...and who would never been seen in public without gloved hands; white for summer, and black for winter with shoes to match. Of course I wore my own appropriate little gloves too, at least when I was with my grandmother. Grandma returned from Paris, France one year with several yards of silk fabric in a print covered in little Eiffle Towers, which she used to make a shift dress for me. That did it. I caught the sewing bug right then and there....and the rest is history. Thank you for the sweet memory. Linda S.

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