I thought perhaps you’d like to read an article of mine that appeared in a fall/winter 2004 edition of PATCHWORK QUILTING MAGAZINE.
It tells how my Sew Thrifty infatuation and blog name got its start!~~~~~
Two impressive women taught me how to rummage for sewing finds. Teresina was a single mother providing for her daughter Margo (my best friend), her son, a foster son, and her aging French maman and auntie (twins) she nicknamed “The Ladies”. Teresina thought it abhorrent to purchase department store clothing thereby wasting even a dear penny of the money she made giving perms, straightening hair, and perfecting the “Sassoon Cut” at her kitchen table salon. She insisted we girls learn to sew everything including “they only take 5 minutes!” panties on her sunroom’s treadle sewing machine.
When Teresina was not combing out, and the twins not playing their customary board game of Aggravation™, Margo and I used the kitchen table to cut and pin our beloved Simplicity™ 60’s A-line Shift time and time again. The pattern, though battered and retraced on a newspaper advertising “Vinyl Upholstery Fabric at 59 cents a yard”, is still in my box, although I do not think I’ll ever make myself a flower-power size three again! On Saturdays, after she coached our school’s girls bowling team, Teresina would take us to the Veterans Thrift Shop across the street, and coach us on how to find bargains at already bargain prices. My first purchase was suede, a well-tailored men’s jacket, which my mother excitedly informed me was fashioned after those of Actor Cornel Wilde; it cost $1.00, and Teresina wouldn’t have let me buy it if it had cost any more. The second was a butterscotch and red calico print blouse, on whose pockets I soon appliquéd naïve and beautifully bumpy Grandmother’s flower garden motifs.
From then on I was hooked—hopelessly— on shopping “The Thrifts”. I was especially drawn to handmade clothing, needlework, and sewing paraphernalia. I found everything from Czechoslovakian buttons to Japanese Kimonos, from Civil War Era quilts to 21st century quilter’s tools. I bought scrap bags, vintage christening gowns, and a Singer 301 sewing machine. Each find is more thrilling than the previous, more encouraging toward the next. Now I buy more to give away than to keep, won’t buy it if I can’t use it, and still balk at paying more than a dollar!
The second person to influence my second-hand shopping sense was my mother. Mama, who raised me and my four brothers and four sisters virtually by herself, earned her “sin-sibilities” during the Great Depression. It went against her grain to throw any useable apparel away. If mama ever sat, it was to watch Lawrence Welk while she mended school uniform pant cuffs or replaced the collar buttons on Dad’s white Oxfords, because they always “had a little more wear in them”. When I was eleven she forced me to learn to sew at her British built 99K while the rest of my siblings were begging a first baseman from the neighbors. I began with corduroy stuffed toys, double-knit Barbie clothes, and velveteen patchwork dolly blankets. Oh, I was livid! “Why did I need to learn, when I would never, ever, sew?” Now, when I am designing and piecing beautifully complex quilts, I bless my mom for her oh-sew stubborn insistence. Together we began going to yard sales, this was a risky endeavor, as Mama was known to commit grievous traffic violations when spotting a posted sign. What fun we had in our hunt! I was usually looking at the cast-offs of a seamstress or quilter: the thimbles, templates, and notions that made up her estate.
Mother was often in search of collectible buttons to use in clothing redesign. Mama was the queen of recycling before it was politically proper. She was always turning Granny Dresses into Mini -Skirts, Shirtwaists into Crop-Tops, and transforming our Pedalpushers into Hot Pants! There are other women, who were influential in my attitudes toward thrift and sewing. My family doctor, who told me she darned all ten of her children’s threadbare socks. My friend “I won’t make it for you, but I’ll teach you how” Cathy, who made her wedding dress as well as her husband’s suit. But the most unforgettable women are Teresina and Mama, whose approving voices I still hear cheering me on at the Thrift Shop cash register. Now—If only I could find a Bernina at the Goodwill!