The Dressmaker’s Legacy
Grandma Mamie’s hands were always busy
creating beauty where there was none –
from threads, potato sacks, fabric scraps and wool,
she designed, tatted, crocheted, knit and sewed.
She had magic in her hands.
She might have been a famous dress designer
in another time – with other opportunities.
She could envision a garment,
make a pattern from newspaper,
cut the fabric and sew the new creation.
When her twins were two, she made
a white cotton dress with crocheted yoke and sleeves.
her daughters kept the yokes all their lives,
as a loving reminder of their mother.
When her twins were 15, they sketched a dress
with a hem longer on one side than the other.
They said it reminded them of a shirt untucked
on one side, so they named it the “shirt-tail dress.
Grandma designed it and made two.
Classmates at Gauley Bridge High School
wanted one too, so grandma made more, and
started a local fad in West Virginia.
The shirt-tail dress, ahead of its time,
a dress with an asymmetrical hem.
Grandma believed clothes for her twins
should be ready to wear at the same time,
(no favoritism here), so she cut out sleeves for one,
then sleeves for the other, bodice for one,
then bodice for the other, and so on.
Cutting and sewing parts in tandem,
both dresses were ready to wear – at the same time.
She crocheted elegant tablecloths,
intricate feminine collars for dresses and suits,
flat doiles for the arms of her chairs;
fancy ones with starched ruffles for her tables,
and bedspreads of pleasing patterns;
tatted delicate lace for trims;
knitted afghans to cuddle under in winter,
soft booties, hats and small quilts for
new grandchildren and great grandchildren.
She used scraps of leftover material and old clothes
to design and sew beautiful quilts by hand.
She worked magic with those hands.
Grandma’s hands were always busy,
Even when she sat at rest and her sight grew dim,
there was piecework in her lap.
In her 80’s, she was happiest when family visited,
eyes bright with anticipation,
especially when children were coming.
Her wrinkled face with thick glasses greeted us in smiles.
She held both our hands and looked into our eyes when she talked.
I remember staring at her slender hands – with age spots,
blue veins and arthritic joints – tenderly holding mine
and hoping a little of her magic rubbed off on me.
Grandma’s art is in my home now,
fruits of her labor all around.
A favorite quilt pulls at memories
each time I see it, or touch it,
made of fabric swatches from clothes
my mother, sister and I wore in years past.
Sleeping under the warmth of this quilt
brings comfort from the past beyond measure.
I treasure too, my babies quilts,
the kitchen napkins with crocheted edges,
her doiles I have framed, and
the white crocheted bedspread
I drape with care each Summer
on the white bed in the guest room,
as a artist displays a valuable art piece.
Her legacy is greater than treasured items.
Grandma Mamie passed on the value of work,
and the will to create beauty in practical things –
that comfort – and make a home.
Sue Marquis Bishop