Both my grandmother and my mother were pretty skilled with sewing. Perhaps part of it is because sewing is taught in schools, during the class called Home Economics and Livelihood Education. I know of countless people who claimed that the lessons from these classes, which are taught from Grade 4 to High School, didn’t quite stick. But then, it is something lola and mama continued on in their adult lives.
Lola (grandma) learned advanced levels of sewing and dressmaking from a vocational school she went to right after high school. It proved really handy as she ended up having eight children, and she spent a lot of time making clothes for them. I guess you can describe these clothing as ‘bespoke’. She was also an entrepreneur, setting up several shops that sold various household items. So, her kids get to pick the fabric they want from the store inventory, and she would make these one-of-a-kind pieces of clothing. I heard she these days, she continues to do this making simple clothes such as shorts and skirts for great-grandkids.
My mother, at least when we were much younger, would also make us clothes. I have a particular memory of her making this beautiful dress for my sister’s dance performance. In our village, schoolchildren perform regularly in school and community events, large group dances that are colorful and festive. After my brother was born, life got a bit more busy, and the sewing machine was stored away and was used more as a decorative coffee table, covered by a nice tablecloth and displayed in the house.
The sewing machine now fulfills many roles in my life. There’s the practical and utilitarian side, since knowing how to sew can help fix clothing and make them last longer. Hand-me-downs and thirfted items, worn by other people who have a different body size become an almost perfect fit for me. There’s the creative side, where a beautiful dress that doesn’t fit my chest anymore can become a beautiful sleeveless blouse, or the collection of old t-shirts can become a quilt for the living room, and the bedroom.
And then, there’s something else that I didn’t quite realize until now. It’s the “positive feeling” of continuing an inter-generational legacy. Perhaps it’s the same feeling that people get when they end up loving the same type of music as their elders, or mastering the same recipe that has been passed down onto the generations.
It’s strange because neither one of them actually taught me how to use the sewing machine. In my mother’s case, I was too young, and then she passed away so soon. During all those years I lived with my grandmother, it was she who was at the sewing machine, not me. And when I would bring home the sewing projects I have made from school, she would even scold me for how I badly did them. But I have been on the receiving end of her sewing handiwork. She would go to the old family home and take several bags of clothes that my aunts use to wear, and then she would tailor them to fit me. I have enough dresses go to to church and to go for Wednesday non-uniform days for an entire year without repeating a single outfit. Grandma would tell me which daughter wore each hand-me-down item that she was tailoring to fit me, and she would also complain about how some of the dresses are just too small for my larger frame.
Now I’m doing similar things. From making rags, to hemming pants, to making a personalized apron for my spouse and lots of quilts and pillow cases. He seems pretty thrilled about the opportunity to have uniquely designed items in the house. These DIY-made linens and clothing, he describes them as “made with love”. He is thrilled that between the two of us, we can prolong the usability of pants and shirts, as it fits right along with his tendency to save money.
This method that provided an intriguing combination of partiality, usefulness, resourcefulness and creativity, these women in my life have passed down to me. I guess that is in my way a way of homage, of acknowledging some kind of legacy.