Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Grandma's Birthday

It's been a funny sort of year pertaining to paternal grandma's. I write this for today to remember the Grandma who helped raise me.  On the other hand I've spent a significant amount of time searching for and learning about my genetic paternal grandmother.

I've spent a lot of time thinking about family and how I define it. Many times I've said that my friends are my family, in part because I haven't a large number of immediate family members left and also because I haven't a great deal in common with those family members who remain. However, for all our differences, and in spite of how fascinating it is to discover the stories of my genetic family, my 'real' family members are the ones I grew up knowing. The feeling of family comes most strongly to me when sharing memories of those loved ones long gone. I can listen to reminiscences about my parents and grandparents, about my aunt Rita for a very long time. 

I hope I take after my genetic grandmothers, as one lived to age 91 and the other to nearly 97! However, the older I get the more I appreciate my Grandma's qualities. 

I've been working through the pile of stuff in the attic while the weather is mild enough to make it bearable. It is as much a curse as a blessing to have a space like this. There have been times when I felt a bit dizzy at the top of the step ladder, looking around at the accumulation of shelves, boxes, bags, oddments, Bill's luggage collection, my canning jar collection. Christmas stuff aside I have at times looked around and worried I might have a DSM-5 code looming. However, with my new environmentally-friendly standards for clothing fabrics and a renewed commitment to wearing 'my' colours/contrast, etc., there has been a steady stream of upper-body strengthening donations to the Relate charity shop in Whitley Bay. 

Never thought I'd say bright sun was a nuisance...

Two items I came across that will be always remain are these aprons that belonged to Grandma. They were Christmas gifts from one of her sisters, I'm pretty sure from Myrtle who was her younger sister by three years. Grandma had a sister, Millie, just one year older but Millie died in 1961 when I was five. Myrtle outlived Grandma by nearly a decade.

I remember a green one and may run across it some time. I see there are some tiny holes in the brown apron which, as they are about 50 years old, I think can be forgiven. Given the long life of decent fabric I consider 'disposable clothing' an obscenity.

I rarely remember to wear aprons when I cook, a habit I keep thinking I'll change. However, when I do don one of the aprons hanging on the back of the kitchen door, it covers both above and below the waist. I always thought these little half-aprons sort of a house-wifey costume. Then again maybe in the 50s women weren't as sloppy as I am.

I was just thinking it was a shame I never wear these aprons and it suddenly dawned on me that I am developing the skills to cut a top piece and attach it to the bottom part. I remembered that the hems on these are quite deep - 4 or 5" - and so I could steal a bit of the hem to make a matching trim on the top. Or I could go all out and do some red and green cross-stitch. Pink, red and green aren't colours I would have mixed, but I must admit the roses are a nice design. As it happens I have quite a bit of plain white cotton that could be shaped with a loop for the head and some kind of trim. When and if this happens, I will be sure to share them with you. I can see a deadline of her next birthday post would be useful. 

The other thing I've done this past year is to knit dishcloths (no photos to hand at this moment so that will have to be another post). We have stopped buying sponges that wear out in a week. I've made dishcloths for Christmas gifts (not sure how well that went over). 

I gave one to my sister-in-law, Jane, when I knocked off a couple during our holiday together in Switzerland last May. I took a couple to our Thursday night craft group since there never seemed to be a sponge around for washing tea cups and I began to worry about the hygiene levels there. I've taken to drinking hot water instead of tea/coffee and though I know tea stains aren't important, I was pleased to be able to scrub a few off. I think some of the ladies at the craft group were pleased as well, from both a crafty and a cleaning point of view.

I know Grandma would be very happy to know some of her ideas have stuck with me. I also know that she wanted very much to be remembered after she passed, and so she will be for as long as I can see to that. 

Tuesday, 12 September 2017

Rita's Birthday

Today should have been my Aunt Rita's 73rd birthday. Hard to believe she's been gone 10 years next month. If I think of Grandma and Grandpa when I putter (American) / potter (British) around the house, I think of Rita and Mom when I sew. Mostly Mom when hand sewing, mostly Rita when I run the machine. I'm still using thread, buttons, fabrics that came to me from them.

About this time last year I found a 'sewing bee' run by a couple of ladies in Felling, only about 10 miles away, but across - actually, under - the River Tyne, so a bit of a nuisance - actually, £1.70 expense. I go a bit out of my way and loop through Newcastle for the return, crossing the river via the Tyne Bridge. Traffic is heavier that way, but I never fail to appreciate the wonder of this amazing bridge. 

The 'sewing bee' is just three hours of protected sewing time in the presence of some serious dressmaking expertise to bail me out when I get stuck. At £10 a session, I think it is a bargain. My initial visits were sheer hell, given that the other women (and, for a while, a man) seem to go there as much for a chat as to sew. 

I selected a shirt/tunic pattern that was by no means a beginner's pattern and the instructions seemed to be in Greek at first read. I had to work hard to shut out all the distractions and focus on what I was doing and I left the first sessions completely drained by the effort. I explained at the end of one session that I was quiet not because I wasn't interested in the conversation but because sewing was damned hard work for me and it required all my concentration not to make a hash of it. I was surprised to hear that some of them didn't even like sewing, just the outcome. I am pleased to say that I love the process as much as the product, maybe even more.

Of course patterns are made for women with B-cup sized boobs and mine are some double letter I can't even believe. I'm sure it's a made up system to keep me confused. So I had one of the ladies help me with fitting. She mutilated my pattern, cutting, taping and re-cutting until the darts were deep enough to fit my particular curves. Of course we had to take miles off the shoulders and arm lengths. Petite patterns are a rarity these days it seems.

I went to South Shields market one Saturday and bought 10 metres of plain white cotton (£2/metre) for making toiles (practice garments to work on fit). I think I made two or three practice bodices to check various things. I still need to copy the final pattern back onto paper. The white cotton can become a bag lining or something...

The shirt was a challenge. I remember thinking their method of doing the plackets on the sleeves was akin to origami and I spent one whole three-hour session sewing, unpicking and re-sewing - I lost count at 6 times - the collar. Then I had the idea of tacking it in place by hand and it went so much smoother I kicked myself for not having done that sooner. I bought some good quality (Gutterman) thread but only used buttons I already had in my stash. I wasn't bothered that they didn't match, in fact I kind of enjoyed that.

I hated the tunic when it was finished. I'm not happy in loose clothing with no waist. We did all sorts of darts to take in some of the bagginess, but it never looked right to me, a light weight white cotton tunic over thick black leggings. So we chopped it off into the shirt length. Only somewhere in there we didn't measure the front and the back, so the front ended up longer. I was sick of it, so put it aside. I learned a great deal from making it so I couldn't consider it a waste of time. I will go back and fix that, probably before next summer when I'll be wearing it again. 

I had bought some nice grey chambray from The Sewing Box in Morpeth, but I wasn't going to cut into that fabric until I was confident of the outcome. The next practice shirt was from some print fabric I loved. No idea where it came from. I'm sure it's polyester, which I would never buy these days, but I thought I would enjoy a shirt from this anyhow. The print makes me think of a party with streamers and confetti; Bill says it reminds him of something French in the 1950's. 

Clearly, I need a different set up for photos, one what doesn't include the shadows from the window frames. Sorry about that.

I used some clear buttons I had in my stash, including a couple of glass buttons on the middle of the sleeves where they could be rolled up and held with a tab. I had this feature on the white shirt, but later realised that a) I was never going to roll up the sleeves above my elbows and b) I hadn't made the plackets large enough to roll up that far anyhow. 

So I just removed the tab and button and the cotton fabric sleeves stay rolled just fine anyhow. The polyester sleeves needed that tab, which I now knew to place lower down. See? I learn a lot by doing. Except that I cut the opening before sewing on the placket, which is wrong, and not only that, I cut in the wrong place. However, the print being as it is, I just stitched up those cuts and carried on with the right method. I can't afford to be a perfectionist just yet.

Taking these photos I see that there are still a million little threads to be cut. Also that the front of the print blouse is also slightly longer, but I can live with this. I have worn both the white and the print shirts several times this summer, more as 'jackets' than an shirts, unbuttoned with white jeans and coloured tank tops (American) / vests (British). I don't like bare arms (unless it's really hot) any more than baggy clothes. I had a brief attempt at making a vest just before we went to France, but it didn't turn out well. The result was much tighter and low cut than I would care to wear in public. However, neckline aside, this may turn out OK after all. Vests are put off until next spring.

Since I've been losing weight slowly - about 10 pounds now since the first of the year - I'm sure I need another fitting session before I make the grey shirt. I was kind of tired of doing shirts for the moment. Winter is Coming (yes, I have read the Game of Thrones, but not seen any of the TV stuff since I don't do Sky and probably never will) which means I will live in long sleeved t-shirts and wool cardigans, probably with jeans and with something thermal underneath.

I have a knack for getting tiny stains on the front of my tees and whether bought new or thrifted I was loathe to toss a whole t-shirt just because of one speck of discolouration. I have plenty of renovation ideas, but needed to hone some skills. 

I attended a weekend workshop at The Centre Front a few months ago where we learned to copy garments without dismantling them. I managed to make a pattern for a t-shirt and a sweater-jacket. I made a toile for the t-shirt out of a couple of Bill's old technical race t-shirts and was amazed it fit just right. Not wanting to chop up my own tees just yet (exactly the right colours are hard to find), I thrifted 100% cotton t-shirts in mens' sizes L and XL for £1 each. I keep uncovering old (ie 1999) cotton race t-shirts in the attic and so have an ample supply of practice fabric. 

My first real t-shirt is made from (the reverse side) a L navy t-shirt and part of said 1999 Coastal Race tee in an almost white marled grey cotton. Sewing a contrasting neck band proved a major challenge, but I aim for a balance of my Mom's extreme patience and Rita's race-along 'it'll be fine' approach. I must admit I'm more on the painstaking side, but hope for more of Rita's confidence as I improve. 

Neither of them took quite the frugal approach I do, though Mom made many of my grade (American) / primary (British) school shift dresses from my aunts' hand-me-down circle skirts. Mind, dressmaking fabrics, patterns and notions weren't as expensive back then nor did the concept of 'disposable clothing' exist. I have my own ideas about natural (biodegradable) fabrics and about as-near-to-zero-waste as I can get. I think Mom would be proud of me, but Rita would think I was crackers. Rita didn't do frugal.

I've meant to learn dressmaking for absolutely ages and I'm really excited that this dream is finally unfolding. Rita loved clothes and sewing for all the years I knew her and I know she would be pleased that the dressmaking bug has at last bitten me. 

Sunday, 10 September 2017

Grandpa's Birthday

I've been thinking the past few days about what to write in remembrance of the three people born in September who were precious to me. The first birthday is of my Grandpa, born 10 September 1894.

I remembered Grandpa's bank box that I've kept all these years. It has fascinating bits in like his driving licenses from Oklahoma and from Wisconsin, both of which say he was 5'10" and weighed 185 lbs. There are legal papers for their burial sites in Minneapolis (which were never used), his WWII classification notice, a certified copy of his birth certificate from 1908 and another a few years later for Grandma. I found a photo she gave him of herself for his birthday in 1941. Also the bank book for their savings account. 

Bank books were never part of my life until I did business with a 'building society' here in Britain, probably the closest thing they have here to an American style credit union.  I have had several over the years, though I think they are called 'passbooks' here. 

I was fascinated to learn that Grandpa left over $7,200 in savings when he died. I've always thought that a remarkable feat for someone who was the sole support for his family, self-employed as a portrait photographer. His home and his car were paid off and he left no outstanding debt. It was a joint account belonging to him and Grandma. At his death the money was transferred to a different account with her name alone. Several withdrawals happened soon after, no doubt to pay for her nursing home stay.

Grandma's bank book had a more modern look featuring an image of the Local Federal Savings and Loan. 

Of course it looked a substantial building, something that had existed a long time and would stand forever. Kind of like I used to think of my grandparents.

Local Federal S&L is no more. It was taken over/ merged and moved a number of times then closed. The old building seems gone as well, replaced by a glass or mirrored building called "Leadership Square South". 

Image result for local federal savings and loan oklahoma city

I was thinking 'Local Federal' was an oxymoron, but the new name is rather sickening. Just think how proud those men feel though, when they tell you their office is in "Leadership Square". 

The account was opened in 1960 and closed in 1973.  Bill and I reckoned that Grandpa turned 65 in 1959 and so the $2,000 he deposited initially was probably from his business account. I remember him doing the odd portrait photography shoot as late as 1968 and he still had his darkroom in the front bedroom, but not long after that. 

He made both deposits and withdrawals over the 13 years, but the final amount was more over three times more than what he deposited. The value of $1 in 1960 was the same as $8.26 today (so he deposited about $17,000). Sadly, the inflation of the 60s and 70s ate away at his savings, as the value of $1 in 1974 was $5.23 in today's money (still, he had the equivalent of about $38,000). I've not calculated what sort of interest he was earning or how much he deposited vs how much he withdrew. It sounds slightly mental that I might sit down and do such things, but it is a small way of spending time 'with' Grandpa, thinking about him. 

My thought in writing about this is that it is so representative of the kind of man he was: careful, painstaking and frugal. I will likely never be able to create the level of order that he and Grandma had in their home or in their lives (well, aside from my Dad, who was rather a tornado through all that caution), but I often think of them when considering where to put things and whether to keep something I don't have a place for.

If Grandpa had any character flaws I was never aware of them. I remember him as the most patient person I ever met, aside from perhaps my Mom (and I know several of her faults). So, I'm remembering Grandpa today and sometime this month I will be making meatloaf in his honour.

Thursday, 7 September 2017

G is for Gumshoe

I've been re-enjoying the Kinsey Milhone series of late. Bill happened to spot the title of a recent read and asked me what was the meaning of 'gumshoe'. He knew how it is used, but why?

I couldn't answer off the top of my head, but the answer is that of course 'gumshoe' is a slang word for detective. In the early 20th century when 'sneakers/tennies/Plimsolls/trainers' came about, the soles were made of 'gum rubber'; this was also about the time of the 'Golden Age of Detective Fiction'. Gumshoes were silent, implying stealth, a critical skill of detectives, apparently.

If you've not discovered Sue Grafton's 'alphabet series', I can't recommend it highly enough.