When I was in my early teens it was nearly impossible for me to buy a dress. Nothing fit. I was too short, but my bust proved I was growing into a young woman. Dresses, the right length for me, were made to fit an undeveloped seven or eight year-old. My mother made nearly all my clothes.
A 4-H club was formed in our community and Mom was the leader. She taught me to sew on her White treadle sewing machine. It took a lot of practice to keep pumping my feet up and down while steering the fabric in a straight line under the needle. I mastered that, Mom said I was ready to make an apron.
During World War II, farm supply companies began bagging certain feeds, such as corn in printed fabrics of a quality suitable for sewing. It was a bonus because the sacks didn’t require precious ration coupons. They made serviceable dish towels and cleaning cloths. A feed sack was good for me to try out my newly learned skill.
Next came a dirndl skirt—two widths of fabric gathered onto a waistband with a continuous placket or opening on the side. The placket was a challenge, but I had a very patient teacher who pulled out wrong or crooked stitches.
Finally, it was time to learn how to cut, and sew a dress using a pattern. I got better each time.
I was just fourteen when I went to my first Broome County Dress Revue. My cousin, Norma, and I both made navy blue taffeta dresses. Mine had a sweetheart neckline and puffed sleeves. Norma=s dress had a large round collar which she lined with red taffeta. Norma and I spent many hours at the dining room table pinning and basting parts together.
By this time the war was over and Mom acquired an electric sewing machine, which made stitching much easier. It didn’t mean that we were perfect.
One evening, I remember being very pleased with myself. I had stitched the sleeves into my dress very carefully so there would be no little pleats and puckers where they didn’t belong. Then I lay the dress down on the table. I wanted to cry. One sleeve was perfect, but the other would have required me to keep my arm raised. I’d put it in bottom side up. Dear Mom pulled out the errant stitches.
The judging at the county dress revue was always very thorough. While Norma and I stood in front of them wearing our dresses, two experts examined every part of our work. One checked whether the collar or zipper was correctly assembled while the other examined the hand-sewn hem to be sure the stitches were small and even. One pulled here, the other there. They also judged the fit of the dress and the accessories we’d chosen as part of our total outfit. In the late 1940s that meant hat, gloves, purse and shoes.
Lastly, all of the entrants were all required to participate in the revue. As we walked in front of the audience, the judges noted our composure, posture and stance.
Norma and I each received a blue ribbon.