My Mother’s Wedding Dress

I never doubted she had made her wedding dress with her own hands. It’s what she would have done. There wouldn’t have been money to buy a dress and no one did that anyway in the small town where she lived. People made their clothes. When times were good, a seamstress came to the house. Her mother would stand on a dining room chair while a hem was measured, straight pins keeping the line even, a pin cushion on the seamstress’s wrist, pins in her mouth, a measuring tape over her shoulder.

In thinner times, a pattern was bought at the Ben Franklin Store downtown, Simplicity or Butterick, tissue paper folded into an envelope, the models on the front of the package thin and posing on a slant, hands on their hips, their legs uncommonly long, ending in beautifully pointed shoes that women wished they could find in the store next door.

I knew that she made her own wedding dress because it was 1937 and money was short. And I knew she picked purple velvet even though it had to have been devilishly hard to sew, thick but slick, sliding every which way under the needle of the treadle sewing machine. She picked a gathered neck and long sleeves, covered her own buttons with velvet to match and stitched snaps on the side to make the bodice snug.

My mother knew how to finish a dress. So I was surprised today when I took the dress out of my closet and laid it on my bed, turned up the hem and saw that it had a basting stitch, not my mother’s fine, perfect hemming, no finishing ribbon. The hem looked hurried and I wondered why.

Did she run out of time? Did she hem the dress that morning? Did she think she would only be wearing it once and it wouldn’t matter? Did it have to last just until the wedding was over?

In the picture of her wedding day, she is standing in front of her family’s house, my father at her side and all of her family and guests behind her. There is no hint of uncertainty or worry about her hem.

She apparently trusted it to hold.

4 Comments on “My Mother’s Wedding Dress

  1. My heart responded to this piece as memories of my mother sewing for herself and her children came flooding back. So many times I stood on a table as she marked a hem, exactly as you described. Thank you for helping me remember.

  2. I love the double meaning of the last sentence. And I also love your questions – did she run out of time? I wish I could hear the story of the wedding day to see those answers. The color of the dress gives me a mental image of your mother, stepping boldly out in a non-traditional color for that time period. Or so I imagine it anyway.

  3. I grew up with a mother who sewed all of our clothes; good memories looking through the pattern books for my next creation.

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