This is a picture of me in first grade. I was kind of shy, smiling that crooked little smile, but I felt pretty and confident in that dress. It was bright red, with little red buttons going down the front and the bottom part flaired out. It was one of many that my mom made for me growing up. She sewed them on an old peddle machine. She never had a desire for an electric sewing machine. She preferred the peddle machine. She wasn’t a fancy dressmaker by any means. She didn’t have time for that. Most of her handiwork was fairly simple and not too frilly.
Sewing and clothes-making were a vital parts of the Appalachian woman’s chores. In the late nineteenth century, most clothing was woven and store bought fabric was a luxury. Clothing was handmade until the early twentieth century. Stores starting carrying ready made clothing, while some were obtained from mail order catalogs.
During the depression, women of the Appalachia, along with other regions,stretched their thriftiness by creating a wide variety of garments with feed sacks. By the 1940’s manufacturers were designing their bags with a wide array of colors, styles and patterns. My grandmother and my mother used to make all kinds of things out of feed sacks: dresses, shirts, curtains, petticoats and even underwear.
Appalachian women made due with what they had. My mother was no exception. My mom sewed clothes for all of us children, as her mother and grandmother before her. I don’t think I ever had a dress from a feed sack, but I do believe I had a petticoat or two!
Once, when I was in the sixth grade, the school was having a formal dance. I had begged my father to let me go but, he refused. I resigned myself that I wasn’t going so that was the end of that.
Time went on until the Friday of the dance. Now, my mom knew that I really wanted to go. I got home that evening from school, and as soon as I got in the house, my mom met me at the door. “Honey, I talked your daddy into letting you go to that dance.” Talk about being happy! I hugged my mom and then thought, “Wait, I can’t go. It’s formal, meaning a long dress, and I don’t have one!”
My momma smiled and said, “Well, it’s not much, but you do have one….I searched through my boxes of cloth and found a nice material to make you a dress”
She had worked all afternoon on that dress. It was a silky polyester, of soft brown with little burgundy and pink flowers in it. Made from a pattern she had used before for me, she extended the length. It was simple with puffy sleeves and a square neckline. It was finished except for hemming it.
My mother, at that moment became my fairy godmother. And I felt like Cinderella. Now I know it wasn’t as fancy as some of the other home made dresses the other girls had on, nor as fine as some of the store bought ones, but I loved that dress. And I loved my mom so much for all she did for me and all of us kids all through our lives.