Growing Up In Style: 'Patterns of the Past' by Susan Choi
I'm here to introduce a series of original essays titled growing up in style writers on discovering fashion in america in this one the novelist susan choi author of the national book award winning novel trust. Exercises writes about her love of fabric patterns as a child in south bend indiana here susan reading her essay patterns of the past. I hope you enjoy. Historians of fashion seem to agree that by the time i was born in nineteen sixty nine. The son was already setting on the golden age of sewing. But there were few signs of this decline where i was growing up in south. Bend indiana my mother like so many mothers owned a sewing machine and knew how to use it how this come to be. I asked her recently. She gave a verbal shots over the phone from houston where she lives. Now if you read the directions and follow the pattern it would come out all right. She recalled she didn't even remember perhaps because they were as ordinary to her as grocery shopping. Our trips to the fabric store. Oh the fabric store. Even now decades later when google those words and look at the photos my heart thumps with desire to be clear. These are not photos. A fabric for sale online but photos of the interiors of actual physical places where one goes to touch bolts of fabric cards of rick rack buttons buttoned to a stiff cardboard backing or tumbling loose in a jar dispenser displays of threat arranged by color the spools curved surfaces gleaming like candy and every kind of beautiful ribbon in every color and texture and pattern the fabric store. Unlike the grocery store made me hungry the for. What exactly wasn't clear at the time. It was something much larger and much less defined than the outfits. My mother would make me from the items. We chose the fabrics and notions and trim but the outfits i loved with my whole heart and remember as clearly as if they still hung in my closet. The ruffled pinafore made from a white on white print of tiny flowers trimmed with red rick rack and finished with the application juicy. Strawberries on the bib. The shirtdress of multicolored cotton printed with patterns resemble embroidery the truly glamorous halter dress with a triple tiered skirt of pastel. Blue pastel pink. Pastel yellow says my mother now in her eighties on the other end of the phone. I lovingly describe her creations. She is impressed. I remember so while she has zero memory of sowing the any of these things though she does remember making herself address with extremely big sleeves. They were in style that year. She says she wore it a few times and decided the sleeves looked so stupid that she tore them off and wore. The dress sleeveless the fact that unlike me my mother is white exceedingly pale small boned blue eyed and with the cheekbones of film star both oppressed me throughout my childhood. And lay somehow outside of thought even to articulate it now feels uncomfortable but the facts were and remain that my pale blue eyed mother never matched my black haired brown eyed dark skinned self always far darker as a child than i ever get now because i was outside all summer. In an era before sunscreen in elementary school in indiana. I was cast as the lone indian in the thanksgiving play more. Generally i was constantly looked at especially or at least so it seemed to me when standing next to my mother. We didn't match. I harbored a fantasy fearful half escapist that i would turn out who've been adopted from some faraway land. Even my father who really was from a faraway land only explained my appearance without removing. My anomalous miss. He was to novelists himself ends that hunger. I felt at the fabric store. Larger than any one outfit could satisfy for the choosing of the fabric and the notions and the trim was always secondary to the choice of the pattern and the choice of the pattern was never i understand. Now about the pattern it south. It was about the girls the winsome the willowy and the overwhelmingly with token exceptions white girls who modeled the pinafores and shirt dresses and halters the tiered skirts and even the full body. Pajama like halloween costumes. On the outside of the rectangle envelopes housing the patterns. Remember those remember how they were often filed in boxes so that your fingers walked through them as they would later walk through. Lp's at the record store. When i think of patterns my mind says butterick. And i bet that the majority of the close my mother made me were from patterns put out not by simplicity or mccall's but by the butterick company which also produced vogue patterns having licensed the name from conde nast bruising those patterns of my past online where especially at sea they abound as if the golden age of sewing never ended. I have to wonder if i always chose butterick patterns on the strength of the package illustrations alone. The simplicity girls are oddly wooden and slightly mis proportioned the mccalls girls look like cartoons but the butterick girls still quicken my heart. I recognize my secret childhood. Self that lanky limb d- flush cheeked auburn-haired spirited white girl. I was deluded enough to imagine. I might be twin sister to anne of green gables. No less than two miniature area clock recognizing that hopeless longing to be entirely unlike myself delicately white as affirmed by one hundred percent of my world is a part of moving past it and perhaps even a part of reclaiming those buttons and bows those bullets at every possible fabric delicious all on their own after concluding online photos that it might well be the store of my childhood. I called stitch in time in south bend but it had only opened in nineteen ninety. Three there was a fabric store back then an ireland road by the old scottsdale mall. The woman who answered stitch in times phone told me. When i explained where i lived fashion fabrics that turned out had opened in nineteen seventy one just in time for my first toddler outfits and closed just under two decades later having withstood. Even the machine made onslaught of gloria vanderbilt. I know about that story. Because i worked there. The stitch in time woman went on. But before i could exclaim that maybe she'd helped me choose buttons or ribbons. She politely ended the call. An actual customer having arrived looking. I imagine for the modest but real transformation that a pattern and some fabric can provide.