Sunday, June 13, 2010


When I was a little girl, I learned to sew by making doll clothes – first for my own dolls and then for my nieces'. (By the way, within the last year, three of those nieces became grandmothers – and they weren't the first. The picture is of Becky with granddaughter Allyn, my great-great niece.) Looking at retro doll patterns is a trip down memory lane for me. For any doll, there might be several patterns available, but Mother would make me choose just one. (Hah! If only she could see me now!) She would encourage me to compare the patterns for content, noting that they were mostly the same with certain exceptions. For instance, this pattern might have the underwear but the other would have the pajamas, or whatever. I had to decide which one I wanted. She might eventually consent to let me have the pattern not chosen, but only one pattern at a time was purchased. She was a wise lady; I recognize that she was teaching me to make good choices, to think from the standpoint of the marketing ploy involved, to avoid excesses and duplication and not to buy more than I would use. Nowadays I indulge my inclination to collect patterns, so when the lady at the eBay store Favorite Huggables said, "Choose six patterns and I'll include a seventh free," I agreed to get right back to her with my list.

Then there was the fabric. Seldom did we buy fabric for doll clothes. We made do from Mother's stash, which was abundant, but she had rules. Doll clothes were made from scraps only, not larger pieces. The challenge was to find a piece – or pieces – that would be adequate. I became adept at using the scraps. Mother would not let any remnant be cut if there was more than a yard or so. Reasonable, yes, but as I worked through that stash, the possibilities became more limited and so did opportunities for creative sewing. As I grew older and formed my own opinions – that happens, you know – I came to resent the rules because I knew Mother was never going to use those pieces she so carefully guarded. (That was insightful on my part.) It never occurred to me that I might have negotiated for a different deal. I might have said, for instance, "Look, I'd like to have more patterns and my own stash. I'll spend my allowance / babysitting money."

That was then and this is now. Now I can afford my flights of fancy and I set my own rules, though obviously I haven't forgotten my mother's training. But – it's hard to have a truly retro experience. Things change over time – not just people and places but products and methods. You can't go home again, as they say. In my childhood days, many women sewed for their families and the supplies to support sewing (called sewing notions) were available everywhere, even in my little home town. The store was called Watkin's Dry Goods – an old-fashioned name even then -- but we could get patterns, thread, zippers, etc., and some fabric. For more selection and a better price, we would drive the 42 miles to Lewiston, where such goods were readily available in several convenient locations. Now we have just one store in the Lewiston / Clarkston community supporting the broad range of sewing interests – Jo-Ann – and the available selection is not great. For instance, the other day I was looking for straight-edged lace to embellish the little garment I was making, and I could find nothing that fit the description. After an indepth online search, I finally found it at I ordered plenty.

Mike left Saturday (June 12) on his Triumph motorcycle to geocache in Oregon with a dip into northern California. Messages last night and this morning indicate that all goes well. KW


DrJulieAnn said...

I didn't sew clothes for dolls when I was a little girl. I only had one doll growing up and she had permanent pajamas. That said, I wished my grandmother had taught me the lesson about comparing patterns that you received from your mother. I have bought hundreds of unused patterns over my sewing career and now that I know how to make my own patterns, I recognize that 90% of them repeat the same basic structure and only have cosmetic differences. I would have saved a boatload of money if I'd known how to be so discerning!

Kathy said...

I don't think I would enjoy making my own patterns, but my mother would have loved it. I'd rather just sew and leave the design work to someone else. Mother bought plenty of patterns but only one at a time, and that project had to be finished before another pattern was purchased. There were plenty of patterns in the drawer but all of them had been used.

But you know -- patterns were cheap -- $.35. Now patterns are expensive -- like $10-15. I never pay that. I buy them when Jo-Ann has a sale. That really encourages volume buying. It's tough to live by the old rules!

Chris said...

Hard to believe Becky is a grandma. Your nieces and nephews were always "the little kids" but I guess they actually weren't that much younger than we were. Big differences in those days, though.

I haven't bought any patterns in years, but I recently decided to try to find a pattern similar to my favorite style of purchased blouse. I found one (looking through the pattern "books" online), and about fainted when I went in to buy it. It was $15!! I left it there. Fortunately my next JoAnn flyer had a sale (I want to say $1.99 each), so I did finally buy it. Now to find some fabric. But that'll be after the boxers.

Kathy said...

Chris -- I think we had a discussion about pattern prices back in the '70s when suddenly patterns were $5.00. No more cheap pattens, you explained. Price going up but they would now go on sale, like most everything else. I have to question whether this system really works. A Simplicity pattern at $12.00 one day will be 10 for $10.00 (other companies a little more) on a weekend coming soon. I watch for those sales and indulge.

Chris said...

Hey Kathy--I found a couple of those patterns for doll aprons that look '30's: Quick Sew 3596 and Simplicity 3746. Cute, cute, cute.

Kathy said...

You're right, Chris. Those patterns are really cute.