My mother was always a crafty woman, where my dad had a ‘workshop’ in the basement, she had a ‘sewing room’. My dad’s workshop was filled with every imaginable tool, like most men he had multiples of many things that he forgot he already had, hitting Canadian Tire or Lansing Build All was a weekend staple destination for him back in the mid-1970s. My father, no slouch in the fix-it department, actually build us a full ‘play house’ in the backyard of our North York, Ontario home. It was big enough to have the entire neighborhood’s children all inside it and still have room for a table and chairs.
My mother was someone who could sew, so it seemed absolutely natural to me that she would have a ‘sewing room’. I though every home had one, just like a kitchen or bathroom, little did I know. My mother was famous for putting patches inside the knees of our worn-out play jeans, for shortening the cuffs on our hand-me-down pants, and for mending our cloth toys and blankets. She also made costumes for us, for Halloween, for our endless themed birthday parties [there were four of us kids after all], and for our dance recitals.
In the early 1980s, my mother actually stitched up a Care Bear costume for not only my little sister, but one of her dance class-mates. The were unbelievably detailed, and my mother still has the one she made for my sister. A full head-to-toe costume, the child’s face actually peeks out of the mouth of the Care Bear in question. A pastel mint faux-fur body suit with an emblem stitched on the white belly, and a giant ‘head’ that went over the child’s head, the scale was just as the stuffed dolls we had. Can you imagine an entire dance class of 12 six year-old girls trying to dance to “Teddy Bear’s Picnic” in that huge and likely over-heated costume. You have to love it.
My mom also made us costumes for Purim, the Jewish holiday where dress-up is part of the fun. This year it falls on Thursday, March 8th/2012, so there is still time to get your costumes ready. Clown costumes are one option for Purim, as are the characters from the story the holiday is based on, including a princess of course. One year my mother made clown costumes for each of us kids, I must have been around 9 or 10 years old at the time, because I know she made them for myself and my twin sister, my brother, who was likely 7, and my youngest sister who was maybe 5 in her kindergarten class.
The costumes were amazing. She made these huge ruffled neck pieces that went with them, a startling white compared to the colorful two print combo of the suit, trimmed with a lovely bright rickrack. We also had matching hats, yarn pom poms accents and all. Too adorable for words. My mother went on to make a couple for adults, and then for many friends of the family, they became famous. My mother somehow found time for this with four young children of grade-school age, going to a school with no busing, cooking every meal we ate, and being a full-time homemaker.
People would call to ask to borrow them for all sorts of events, and they were generously sized so we got a good few years use out of them. I think it was quite an ingenious strategical move on the part of my mom to make the two oldest children’s costumes, mine and my twin sister’s, out of fairly gender neutral colors and prints, they lasted my siblings a long time in the years to follow. They pulled duty on trick or treat nights, Purim carnivals, and a themed birthday party where every child in attendance wore a similar costume.
I could go on and on, but what today’s Time Travel Thursday post is really about is those envelopes of patterns that you could buy at the fabric store, along with all your fabric and findings. It’s about the days when people made their own clothing and costumes as the norm, and not the exception. It is about those homes that included such things as ‘sewing rooms’, where magic happened in the hands of everyday people. When your mother or grandmother would make you a costume that had never been worn by anyone else, that looked absolutely professional and fabulous, that no one else had, that was a treasured thing. I have just gotten my first sewing machine, a very basic Singer model, just for making a few time saving stitches now and then. My mother still has her first Singer too, it still works and she still uses it occasionally, and I know it is likely 40 years old, maybe more.
I would love to know how to use a pattern, to know how to use fabric so that the threads run the right way for stretch or fit, to know what seam technique to use, to be able to create professional looking garments and costumes, just like my mother did. So few of us have the time or inclination to make things by hand, but I have found just the little bit of doll making I have been doing lately to be so therapeutic. To see a finished result, something tangible, something you can hold in your hands or give to a child to cuddle, it is a totally WOW moment. It’s nice to see something through to the end, there is so much in our world that has become conceptual or intangible. Whether you sew, knit, crochet, scrapbook, cook, or have some other hand-made hobby, you know exactly what I mean. The ability to create something is just as satisfying as it ever was.
Today’s post features a bounty of amazing vintage sewing patterns, almost entirely Clown Costumes all for sale on Etsy, along with hundreds of other patterns for every look you can image. They are fun to look at, collect, even stitch up for yourself or a friend. Take the links under the images to reach the shops and listings, and have a look around. Even if you don’t have a dedicated sewing room, crafting room, or studio, any room can become one if you use it for that purpose. This is a celebration of an nearly lost art, fabric stores are harder and harder to find, patterns for modern styles just don’t exist the way they did in the past, it is so much easier just to go to the mall when you need new clothing. Just because something is easier, doesn’t mean it is better. As for these clowns, maybe one will be your first sewing project from a pattern. They are very easy to make and they are great for play and holidays alike. You can even get all your fabric and finishing elements on Etsy. Give it a think, and for now, sew long.