By Marcia Bronstein
Who knows that September was National Sewing Month?
For those who don’t, the observance of National Sewing Month began in 1982 with a proclamation from President Ronald Reagan declaring September as National Sewing Month, “In recognition of the importance of home sewing to our Nation.”
I learned to sew when I was young. Grandma Rose taught me. Immediately after she arrived in the U.S. as a 14-year-old, she found work in an airless factory that employed women and young girls to sit for hours at a sewing machine and were paid pennies per piece completed. So, one could say that she had an education in sewing that she passed on to me.
I, however, did not appreciate the nuances of sewing which required the laying out and cutting of patterns, the pinning of the garments or of the multiple fittings. But, I did learn how to do it. I also have a fashion style — let’s call it whimsical. What is highlighted in my whimsical style is color and the ability to mix and match it with patterns and textures. And I have Grandma Rose to thank for my style.
For many years, she was the one who sewed my wardrobe by hand. It amounted to some odd designs that she created based on what fabric was left over from some other project. She loved designing and producing unique fashions. As a child, I didn’t relish her talents. I only wanted to wear what everyone else was wearing. But alas, I had my own designer and had to beg her to tone it down, so I didn’t stand out from the crowd too much.
Grandma Rose taught me many things. One of those things was to always repurpose or mend and never throw out. She didn’t like the “disposable” fashions she saw in many stores. She never would get rid of something because of a rip or because it required fixing — she would reinvent items that she mended. It didn’t matter if hem lines failed to match up or if she used many different pieces of fabric because she loved it when things that didn’t match.
One year, she made herself a short jacket from a horse blanket. It had stripes of yellow, green, red and black, it had fringes on the bottom and she proudly added big pockets to it. Everyone complimented her jacket, but I couldn’t understand why she wanted to wear that blanket.
Grandma Rose loved things that she made because her designs were one-of-a-kind. She focused on what she could create and that made her happy. When I think of her, I remember Grandma sitting at her Singer sewing machine, which was placed in front of her bedroom window and overlooked Gun Hill Road in the Bronx. I would often sit next to her and watch the traffic and the ebb and flow of people on the street below.
And when Grandma made me clothes, while I didn’t always appreciate them, I appreciated her. There was the time I wanted bell- bottom jeans and Grandma made me a pair. They weren’t exactly what I wanted, but they did capture the general idea and they were made from a fabric that — although not exactly Levi Strauss material — did resemble denim.
My grandmother was a business woman, she owned her own business, worked seven days a week and still managed to bake bread, cookies and cakes and make every meal from scratch, design and sew her own clothes and still had time to be my best friend. She made everything fun and I loved to be with her even if I didn’t always love the clothing she made for me.
I wish that Grandma Rose could see me now. Today, I prefer to buy clothes that are one-of-a-kind, I like clothes that do not match up, I love different fabrics and colors. I know that would have made her happy. I no longer yearn to have the look that everyone else is sporting and I do try to repurpose items. And, thanks to Grandma, I can sew.
Happy belated National Sewing Month.
Marcia Bronstein is the regional director of AJC Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey.