Love, Luck and What I Sewed

Many years ago I ran across this little book:

This book was published in 1995 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.  All illustrations are copyright 1995 by Ilene Beckerman.

This book was published in 1995 by Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill. All illustrations are copyright 1995 by Ilene Beckerman.

I don’t remember how I found it or where I saw it, but I bought a copy for my mother-in-law, which she loved.  I finally gave in a few years later and bought one for myself.  It’s a very straightforward kind of book, with un-fancy writing and unsophisticated, but charming, drawings by the author.  Within the book’s simple demeanor, however, is an expressive, and touching tribute to the power of what we wear and how we remember – and measure – our lives.

The contents are divided according to decades, starting with the 1940s and continuing into the first part of the 1990s.  The author was born in 1935, so her recollection of clothing and fashion begins when she is a child.  She had the great fortune, as did so many from that era, of having a mother who sewed – beautifully and extensively – for her and her sister.  Here are a few examples:

Love, luck, etc - 1

About this dress which she wore to her cousin’s wedding, Beckerman wrote: “ My mother made this pink, green, and black iridescent-metallic plaid taffeta gown.  We bought the material at Macy’s at Herald Square [New York City].  They had a whole floor for selling patterns and fabrics.”

One of the author’s sister’s dress is featured here:

Love, luck, etc - 2 “My mother made this sexy red dress for my sister.  It had a . . . peplum and was accented with hand-sewn gold sequins.”  This prompted the memory of her mother sewing sequins on printed silk scarfs, which served as Christmas gifts for the author’s teachers.

Here is another dress made by the author’s mother – this one for her sister to wear to their cousin’s wedding.

Love, luck, etc - 3 By the 1950s, the author’s mother had died, and with her death came the end of the joy of wearing her sewn creations.  However the author and one of her best friends ventured into some sewing themselves with the making of these cotton circle skirts:

Love, luck, etc - 4 “It took forever to hem them” – says Beckerman, a statement with which any home dressmaker can identify!

This stylish coat was purchased by Ilene, and when shown to another best friend’s mother, Miriam Landey, who happened to be a dress designer/dressmaker, Mrs.Landey told her daughter to go and buy one as well.  Such a compliment!

Love, luck, etc - 5 Mrs. Landey, according to Beckerman, “would go to Europe in the summer to buy fine and fancy fabrics…”

The 1960s are marked by only two fashions, one of which is a maternity dress.

Love, luck, etc - 6 Six pregnancies during the decade surely are the reason for the dearth of fashion memories from that period of time.  Or perhaps the death of one of those children made the memories too painful.

The 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s are lumped together, and are set off most dramatically by this Diane Von Furstenberg wrap dress from the ‘70s.  While wearing this dress, the author came to the decision to end her marriage.  How could one not remember what she wore at such a time in her life?

Love, luck, etc - 7 As the story ends, grown children marry and have children of their own.  But at night, says Beckerman, she reflects on her mother and the dresses she made.  “I like to think I got my fashion sense from my mother and from Dora’s mother [Mrs. Landey].”  Thus is a life remembered by what she wore, and so many of those memories have their foundation in home-sewing.

It had been a while since I had looked at this little book, but I had occasion to dig it off the shelf recently, right after I finished my Chanel-inspired red jacket.  I went to it after a difficult life event, which I know I will now always associate with that jacket.

I was happily expecting to finish all the final hand-work on my jacket within a day or two (okay, maybe three!), when, as the saying goes, “life is what happens when you are making other plans”.  After a fairly routine diagnostic medical test, my husband and I unexpectedly found out he had to have open-heart surgery for a triple coronary by-pass.  I was still in shock (my fit, active, healthy husband?), when the surgery was quickly scheduled for the following morning at 6:30 AM.

Suddenly I was relieved that I still had much to complete on my jacket.  Facing what I knew would be some of the longest hours of my life – the 5 to 6 hour operation – I packed up my unfinished jacket, thread, pins, etc. in the very still and long, lonely hours of the night preceding the surgery.  And so – the next morning, sitting in the hospital, I sewed and sewed and sewed as the hours slipped by, the time punctuated by phone calls and, blessedly, by occasional good reports from the Operating Room.  My needle and thread kept me calm – I equated every stitch with repairing my husband’s heart.  And so it was  – beautifully, successfully repaired . . .

The following days took on a life of their own, as I shuttled back and forth to the hospital, spending hours every day by my husband’s bedside.  And then one day, on a whim, I brought in the as-yet-incomplete pockets for my jacket.  I sat and sewed the trim on to the top edge of each one (much to the delight of my husband who did some bragging about my sewing skills), arousing much curiosity among the doctors, nurses, staff, and visitors.

Here are the four pockets, in various stages of completion.  I decided to add silk organza interfacing to them (suggested by Susan Khalje, but optional).

Here are the four pockets, in various stages of completion. I decided to add silk organza interfacing to them (suggested by Susan Khalje, but optional).

It seems that construction of parts of a Chanel-inspired jacket was a first for the Intensive Care Unit and then the Progressive Care Unit!  By the time my husband came home a week after the surgery, he had made tremendous progress.  I had made progress on my jacket, too, but most importantly, sewing on it had given me a sense of normalcy during a time of great uncertainty.

So many people have told us how lucky we are, and it is difficult to express how very correct they are.  Instead of “loss”, we have, indeed, been abundantly blessed with love and luck.


Filed under Book reviews, Chanel-type jackets, Uncategorized

28 responses to “Love, Luck and What I Sewed

  1. Oh my goodness! I’m so glad your husband is doing well! How perfect that you had a project that could travel with you for all the waiting around. The jacket turned out so beautifully and I’m glad you don’t have a bunch of sad memories attached to it because there was a happy ending!

    I’m glad your husband was able to brag about your sewing skills to the hospital staff – so sweet! I pray he continues to do well!

    It really is interesting which memories attach themselves to our clothes!

  2. Cissie

    I had been wondering where you were, Karen! Now I know. Bless your heart. What an ordeal — for all of your family. Thank God for his good recovery.

    I know what you mean about sewing being calming to you during this time of incredible stress. I find myself retreating to the needle and thread when I am undone by what is going on in my life. It seems to center me and keep me from going NUTS!

    You will always think of this jacket in a special way. Hope that your husband’s recovery continues along this path!

    • Thank you, Cissie. Those of us who sew are so fortunate to have something with which to tame our nervous energy! I so appreciate your good wishes!

  3. Oh heavens I am sorry to hear about your husbands hospital stay and I am so very glad you had something to keep your hands occupied while you sat and waited. My mother knits, usually, during such times and I know I’d head for needles, knitting or sewing, too.

    I am also so very very glad your man is healing and I hope you are both coping with the process. I do love that hubs was so very proud of the jacket during his hospital stay …. what a lovely man!

    Anyway, thinking of you both.

  4. PS I do need to see if our library has a copy of the lovely little book. 🙂

  5. Karen,
    Your moving post went in an unexpected direction as I carefully read every word. I’m delighted to read your husband will be ok. Your sewing was with you at the birth of your daughter and there to see you through hubby’s surgery. Lucky hubby and lucky you – Love luck and blessings galore!

  6. I’m so glad to hear that your husband is recovering. I’m sure that was a big shock, and I’m glad you had your jacket project to help you through the ordeal.

    I adore that little book. Funny, because I thought of it a few days ago and almost got it out and reread it for the 100th time.

    Take care!

    • Great to hear from you, Lizzie! Isn’t that a great little book – so easy and quick to read, but it always leaves me thinking. I’m glad that you know it, too.

  7. Susanna

    Your post brought me to tears, Mom. It’s beautifully written. I’m so glad you had that jacket to keep you centered. I only wish I had been there to hold your (and Daddy’s) hands. Love you!

    • You were holding our hands, Susanna – just figuratively across the miles. I must admit I had some trouble writing this post, as I got weepy doing it. I’m so glad you like it.

  8. Joanne

    I hope to get my hands on that book Karen!
    I am glad your husband continues to do well. It is so hard to have these worries for our loved ones that we adore so intensely.
    The rhythm of knitting and sewing are so very therapeutic. Continue to rely on them, they are magical.

  9. Good to hear everything is sorting out. How wonderful you have such a lovely hobby like sewing to make the days, minutes, weeks, seconds, sometimes, they all appear like the same amount of time when you are so stressed, to keep you involved and focused and happy about something.

  10. Marianne

    This is the most touching blogpost on sewing I’ve ever come across. Wonderfully written, you gave me lots to contemplate on, even before the story turned so very personal. Happy to hear your husband is doing well.
    I will print this jewel of a post, to read it over again. Your words are those of a very wise woman. Thank you!

    • Thank you, Marianne, for your lovely comment. I wasn’t sure I should post something so personal, but it has actually helped me to recover somewhat from my “shaken-ness” – and if it can possibly help just one other person, then it will be all the better.

  11. What a beautiful story. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Carol Furey

    Sending you and your husband healing thoughts and prayers and warm good wishes for a speedy recovery.

    Like hand sewing and knitting, folding origami paper to make cranes or other shapes can be calming.

  13. Pam

    Thank you for sharing such a personal story. I’m happy to hear that your husband is recovering well, and also that your needle and thread could provide you with some distraction and comfort, when everything seemed to be out of your control. I wish you both well.

  14. Thank you, Pam! We are both doing very well, indeed, and I’m now able to spend some time in my sewing room, too!

    • Pam

      I bought the book on the way home from work after reading your post. I sat with a glass of wine and read it while my own memories of special, and not so special items of clothing rushed in. So many of mine were also made by my mother, or with her help. The book is now on it’s way to her, and I know she will be sharing it with her five sisters. it is indeed small, but powerful.
      I can’t thank you enough for the recommendation!

      • I am so glad you liked the book, Pam. It is definitely one to share – and I can just imagine the conversation it might inspire among your aunts, your mother and you. Thanks for letting me know.

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