It amused me this week, to read of the list of professions which have proved historically to always provide a living of sorts to those who practice them; fine carpentry, construction carpentry, metalworking, innkeeping and I don’t know what-all. Seamstressing was not among them, which is a pity … but since it his historically been an almost exclusively female-practiced profession/hobby/amusement, perhaps it’s one of those things that we can really blame the patriarchal establishment for. Women could make a living, even if relatively a barely marginal one from sewing, although if you glommed onto a high-visible and high-value client who patronized you extravagantly, a certain degree of prosperity would be assured … but I think mostly that it was one of those things that women were expected to do anyway as part of keeping and maintaining a house, which brought the wages down for those exercising the skill professionally. Eh … never mind.
What brought on this meditation was the confluence of several things; the first being that I am attempting to reproduce the heirloom family christening dress, which was one of those elaborate, hand-wrought things, of exquisitely fine Baptiste lawn and a foaming of equal-quality embroidered lace; it was one of those items inherited from the great-grandfather who did very well out of property ownership and a high-end society catering business in Britain towards the end of the 19th century. Alas, this lovely and ephemeral item was one of those relics destroyed when my parents’ retirement home burned in the fall of 2003. Sometime after that disaster, Mom and I agreed that I should at least have a go at replicating it, but all I managed at that time was to buy a pattern which somewhat looked like the original dress … of which I have only some relatively indistinct pictures and the memory of handling it, four decades ago, when we stuffed the Daughter Unit into it, upon return from Japan. We brought her to the home parish church, and I changed her out of it as speedily as possible, since we had not expected it to fit her anyway. (I had made a simple white toddler-sized dress of Japanese-sourced muslin and lace to wear as an alternative, which is the garment she wears in all but a handful of the family pictures commemorating that event.) I am presently bashing away at replicating the heirloom christening dress, in order to have something significant to christen Jamie, the prospective grandson in. I bought lengths of vintage embroidered lace through various sources on eBay, along with some fine Pima lawn. At this point I can practically guarantee that his godparents will be standing at the font, clutching a bale of fine fabric and embroidered lace with a small baby marooned somewhere in the center. (The project is going pretty well, actually, even if what was available was not precisely equivalent to the original.)
But the whole thing – the imminent grandson and my various dressmaking ventures brought me to think of various things; of thrift, thrift stores and home-sewing, mostly.
Thrift and resale shops are a splendid and inexpensive means of dressing small humans, as they are absolutely guaranteed to grow out of those garments long before they ever wear them out. They are even an excellent way to outfit older children and full-grown humans. The resale shops generally curate the intake rigorously, and the local thrift and resale stores that we frequent seem to take a great deal of care in cleaning and presenting the donations – but still, there seems to still be a bit of stigma attached, although being a hard-headed consumer myself, I cannot see exactly why. There have been at least two occasions in family history where we spotted our own former garments on a fellow elementary school kid after donation to a local charitable concern. The Daughter Unit did the same in Utah, upon spotting another middle-school student in a familiar dress, one that I had sewn for her and donated when the Daughter Unit had outgrown it. “Hey, you’re wearing a dress my Mom made!”
In the first instance, I kept my mouth shut. In the second, my daughter blurted it out, in all innocence and intending to be complimentary – and the fellow student was hideously embarrassed at having been marked as one whose parents shopped at thrift stores. Which was really a bit sad. It was a nice dress. I do not do shoddy work, and the girl probably got a lot of pleasure from wearing it, until the Daughter Unit spilled the beans; that her parents shopped at charity thrift stores. The Daughter Unit says that the girl denied it and was never spotted wearing that dress, ever again. A great pity, that.
Money in Red-state Flyoverlandia does not grow on backyard trees, much as current national economic policy might appear to being going in that direction. The markdown differential from original retail is … astonishing, sometimes. The Daughter Unit recently purchased a very nice and apparently unused baby onsie for $1.50 which from the original sales tag attached retailed for north of $30. Of course, one is faced with the relatively minor challenge of finding something on the thrift store racks in the right size, flattering, and which would appeal, but frankly, that is most of the fun of bargain shopping. Any fool with lots of money can go to a high-end clothing store, splash out a lot of money and maybe find the perfect outfit.
It used to be that home-sewed garments were an even less expensive option than thrift stores. My own mother stitched all of her own clothing – that other than items like jeans, and Dad’s shirts and suits. I and my younger sister went to school outfitted in lovely and elaborate little dresses, with under-petticoats, ruffles and piped seams, all lovingly hand-made by Mom on the Singer sewing machine, in the day when it was cheaper, before all our garment manufacturing was farmed out to China and the far east. Since then, it seems that everything involved in this kind effort – the patterns, the fabrics and the notions and all … are by several multiples more expensive. A commentor noted sagely, when I posted about this previously, that once something becomes a hobby, rather than a necessity – than everything about it becomes more expensive. Comment as you wish.