Janet Sheridan: Home sewn fashions

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Janet Sheridan

I liked to sit on the floor and watch Mom’s feet rock the treadle as she sewed.

Sometimes I played, and other times she told me stories. Always she worked, creating curtains, dresses, shirts, and flannel nightgowns for babies.

I have a faded photograph of Carolyn and me at 3 and 7 holding hands, standing next to Mom, who ignores the camera and looks at us. We wear winter coats sewn on the treadle machine and accessorized with rabbit fur from a thrift-store find. Fur collars frame our faces; our hands snuggle inside fur muffs; and hats decorated with three balls of fur sit on our heads.

As a child, I studied the photograph and assumed Mom’s smiling face reflected pride in her handiwork.

My older eyes recognize the look of love.

When Mom and Dad came home with a new Singer sewing machine, the family gathered to admire the electric foot-control that replaced the swinging treadle. With this modern marvel, Mom more efficiently clothed a family richer in children than dollars.

She created two dresses for me that occupy positions of honor in my fashion hall of fame.

When I was 12, I crawled into my top bunk, tired and sunburned from a glorious Saturday on West Mountain chucking dyed eggs at the heads of my classmates, an Easter tradition in Lake Shore.

I fell asleep replaying my victorious shots and picturing my entry into church the next morning in my Easter dress.

Each year, Mom made dresses that shot her daughters to the head of the Easter parade. This year, however, I had insisted on choosing the fabric and pattern myself, thinking I had better fashion sense than my mother who was getting old.

I poured over pattern books and materials at Christenson’s until I found the perfect combination: a fire-engine red sheath. I disregarded Mom’s opinion that I didn’t have the curves to fill out a tightly fitted dress, and she didn’t insist.

The next morning, my sunburn a-glow, I sashayed into church with my family.

As we entered a pew, Lehi Smith, who had lobbed enough eggs at my head the day before to make me think he liked me, leaned forward from the bench behind and whispered, “Wow, Janet, you look like a tall skinny glass of tomato juice.”

I flounced by without answering, shot a threatening glance at Barbara, and forgave Mom’s stifled snorts — thinking they were sounds of sympathy.

Lehi, I wrote off as a numbskull.

I wore and loved my tomato-juice sheath for years. Eventually it fit.

I graduated from junior high in an atmosphere of intense competition as each girl sought a perfect dress for the ceremony. I wanted a dress in the window of Kate’s Emporium in Provo. I knew we couldn’t afford it, so I asked Mom if she could make something similar.

Oh my. Could she.

Made of a soft lavender pique, form-fitted to the waist with a circle skirt, the dress exceeded my dreams. Rows of lace cascaded down the back from a graceful bow at my waist to the petticoat-extended hem. I twisted and turned in front of the bedroom mirror until my neck ached from craning to admire my back view.

“What a lovely dress. I wonder where they found it,” a lady asked her uninterested husband as I paraded down the center aisle of the gymnasium.

Recently I watched my best friend’s home movie of the ceremony. As I crossed the stage to receive my certificate, I walked like the self-conscious teenager I was: posture stiff, arms unmoving, hurried baby steps on unfamiliar heels.

I moved like a penguin with a frothy behind.

But I was beautiful, in a dress my mother made for me.

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