Eldest Aunt spent Christmas with us and at one stage she and I were talking about dressmaking. I was interested to hear that she’d actually made a lot of her own clothes when she was at school. I wasn’t altogether surprised though, because she’d attended a girls’ technical high school and dressmaking was a compulsory subject throughout her years there. However, I was startled when she admitted that she’d never worn anything she’d made because, according to her, she’s always been such a perfectionist that none of it had ever been good enough. I’ll bet it would have been at least as good as anything RTW that she might have bought; and I am quite certain that insecurity rather than perfectionism drove her refusal to wear anything she’d made (I accept that some might posit a case for perfectionism springing from insecurity and/or vice versa). I was curious as to why she hadn’t been forced to do so (money having been expended on purchasing the fabric, you would have thought) and, yes, aghast at the wastefulness.
In my family, if money had been spent on buying fabric to make clothes, you jolly well wore them whether you liked them or not. Having said that, I should point out that most of the clothes were made by Great Aunt, whose sewing if not perfect was certainly excellent and highly professional. I have a wonderful dressing-gown sleeve lurking in the scrap bag I inherited from her. For some reason, she must have cut something wrongly, because I know that the matching dressing gown (Youngest Aunt’s, I seem to recall) had the requisite number of sleeves. But the seams are beautifully flat-felled and so neat that I keep that little sleeve to provide inspiration. Everything Great Aunt did was of that calibre, whether it was her sewing, knitting or embroidery.
As to not wearing things, I recall having an absolute meltdown over a particularly hated hat – no, not one that anyone had made, just one that I hated – but in those days, hats were obligatory apparel for women in churches so I had little choice but to wear it. It would not have occurred to me that refusing to wear a handmade article of clothing was ever an option. It wasn’t an option. There was a new garment that had been made, which fitted because of care taken with measurements before and during the making; and, heck, who could argue with the professional finish on those woollen dresses with vintage lace collars?
You could disagree as much as you liked with the fashion that dictated crimplene as a fabric of choice, but the dress made from it? You wore it. You could dislike the styles of the day, as I frequently did, but if a new dress had been made from a current pattern, whether it be something for Sunday best or merely a school uniform? You wore it, no matter what. And I did. Maybe, in spite of my more rebellious nature, I knew when I’d be backing a loser by even attempting to refuse to wear a handmade dress, whereas Eldest Aunt clearly won her quiet battle.
I may have been spoilt, having so many handmade clothes. I probably was. Other people my age, the majority of whom wore RTW clothes but perhaps a greater percentage of handknits than today’s youth, were in no way jealous; mostly, they were dismissive of things that were not shop-bought. The world is a strange place and seems to have come full circle. For years, YoungB was happy to wear things I’d made for him, even pleading with me occasionally TO make things for him (“Could you make me a Ninja helmet, Mummy? Today?” Black knitting, at night. Aagh! That’s the one on the left below; both made using my go-to Patons balaclava pattern).
It’s not so very long ago that he was as excited to get new track trousers I’d sewn as he might these days be to take delivery of new motorcycle leathers. And his present genuine appreciation of, for example, his grey sweatshirt, recent PJ trousers and the right-hand black balaclava (same pattern, different size, different yarn) to wear under his motorcycle helmet, or the toob that was even more useful for motorcycling purposes, represents one of those strange turnarounds that make life such an exciting challenge.
I have had dips and swings in my dedication to things handmade if it meant I had to make them myself but I’ve never really stopped. Eldest Aunt now neither sews nor knits because she finds those activitiees too stressful. She channels her energies into yoga and a cafe lifesyle because that’s what helps her to deal with stress. Me? I pick up my knitting or I go and sew a few lavender bags. What about you?