I was telling a friend this weekend, as we stared at a tub of old doll clothes, my grandmother made all the Barbie Doll clothes my sister and I had in the late 60’s and early 70’s. There were gorgeous velvet formal dresses to skimpy bathing suits and modest cover-ups. All we needed to purchase was accessories like purses, shoes, hats, etc.. We had quite a collection of ensembles that kept us busy playing for hours.
My grandmother was quite a seamstress. Not only did she make all of our Barbie clothes, she made most of the clothes my sister and I wore until we were about 10 and 12 years old, respectively! And, I mean everything – from winter coats to swimsuits! I do believe my mom had to purchase underwear for us, but most everything else was made by my grandmother. We had special outfits for the holidays and often, they matched. If you know anything about sewing and patterns, my grandma would be able to adjust a pattern to fit both my sister and I. It probably wasn’t difficult, as we shared a very slim, almost cachectic physique. I distinctly remember being “fitted” for outfits. She would get so far, and then need to measure us or pin something on “up” or “in” while it was being “tried on”. She was very talented.
Of course, this stirred an interest in sewing for me. My grandmother, being right-handed, and my mom being left side dominant, gave way to me primarily learning to sew from my grandmother. Mom meant well, but invariably would show me things that would end up being “backward” for my dominant right hand. How I grew up a “rightie” in an all “leftie” family (my Dad and sister are both left handers, too) is beyond me! Anyway, once it was determined that there was nothing cognitively wrong with me after finally learning how to tie my shoes from watching my right handed, needle wielding grandma, it became a natural tendency to go to her to learn “how” to do something that required imitation of handedness. So, learning to baste a hem, crochet, and eventually sew an outfit, came from time spent with my maternal grandmother.
She and I had a special relationship. As a teenager, I remember calling her to talk often after school when my mom was still at work. I cannot remember the reason now, but I called her “Great Graham Cracker!” She was a great listener, and while she did not offer a great deal of advice, she paid attention to my teenage angst on a number of different subjects. The fact that she just listened was probably more valuable than any advice she could have given me. And, by not advising me, she never got in the middle of the relationship between my mom and I.
I never turned out to be the seamstress she was but I did get good enough to make all of our window treatments for our first house and several outfits for my oldest son, including his baptism outfit. He also benefited by having a custom-made nursery bedding set, including bumpers, made by my two hands. In addition, he got some great handmade halloween costumes that were sturdy enough to be used by his brothers after he was done. Making halloween costumes for our small family of three, and later five, for October trips to Walt Disney World were some of my favorite, fun creations! However, I was never good at adjusting patterns, fitting myself, or inserting zippers. But, I did inherit two sewing machines from her – one of which I still own.
For most, the 70’s were a time of ecology, free love, space exploration, and rock or folk music. For me, it was a cherished time of handmade Barbie Doll clothes, learning to sew, and appreciating time spent with my grandma.