Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Cobalt princess

“I’m going to learn to sew,” said mum. It was a quiet winter evening. Three astonished faces turned toward her, dad’s, my brother’s and mine. This was worrying. Mum and machinery did not mix. A genius at Maths and fast as lightning on a typewriter, mum was hopeless with all things electric or mechanical. We would have been less surprised if she had said she wanted to be an astronaut.

She had a Singer treadle sewing machine and often hemmed and mended our clothes. She had done beautiful hand embroidery when a young woman, but we were sceptical about the addition of electricity to the equation. She often complained that the toaster didn’t work because she hadn’t plugged it in. But she was determined and bought a Singer electric sewing machine from her hard earned money from working at the grocery store.
Mum never lacked enthusiasm and grit and she signed up for an evening TAFE course. She would take her sewing skills to a new level, she would do more than hemming and mending seams.

In typical style she opted for the toughest assignment. She would make an evening garment. I was already fascinated by sewing myself and had sat on her knee on the treadle machine thrilled with sewing simple seams as her strong hands guided me. I focused intensely on straight lines as well as maintaining the even rhythm of the treadle foot. I was excited by her new venture.

I was seven and looked at the new paper patterns with awe. This was a new world. The ability to make your own clothes, exactly the way you chose! Wearing something that no one else would have, wow! And it was going to happen right before my eyes.

Mum sat me down and told me how she was learning to draft her own patterns. She showed me the heavy cardboard templates that were used.

“They’re a bit small mum,” I said. “How will you fit into that? Do you have to make it bigger for your homework?”
“I’m making a dress for you,” she said, her eyes filling with pride. “The most beautiful dress in the world and you will choose exactly what you want.”

We sat and drew pictures. I wanted a lace front in white, a scooped skirt over a lace underskirt with a bow at the front. I wanted tiny puffed sleeves. And for the dream to really come to life I wanted shiny cobalt blue. I felt like Cinderella. Watching every step of was both agony and ecstasy. I bit my finger nails to the quick. Mum struggled with each new stage and stayed up late pinning and tacking, measuring and stitching. Mum said there was a fashion show at the end and I would model the dress on the catwalk. My life took on a dreamlike quality.

Finally the dress was finished. It was perfection. The night of the show came and my face glowed every inch down the catwalk. There had been a last minute hitch when it was determined that I needed gloves and had none so had to wear a pair of mums. I didn’t care. Nothing could spoil that moment.

I had practised walking and watching the row of lights. My face outshone them all. Not just because for the first time in my life I felt like a princess but because my mum had worked so hard to make me the best dress I’d ever seen. I was so proud of her.

Everyone assumed that with such outstanding success mum had found a new passion.

“What will you make next mum?” I asked. “Will you make yourself something nice?” I wanted her to have a reward for all her hard work.

“Good grief no!” she exclaimed. “I’m never doing that again—its a mug’s game.”

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