Friday, 2 November 2012

Bring back the seamstress

Growing up a lady called Celia came to our house every single week, she sat with my mother in the cuarto de estar (the living room), not to be confused with the more "official" salón-comedor (lounge-dining room). In later years once a very modern sofa-bed was included in the living room, a different room got converted for ironing and sewing (yes, I know!). They would sit at a round table in front of their sewing machines and, how can I describe what they did? Hmm, ah yes! Easy: they made me pretty dresses. Pretty, unique dresses that no one else owned, just me.

It did help that my abuelo (grandad) owned a two story shop that sold fabrics of all types (and tights but that was my grandma's department). Along with my mother, I was a walking ad for that shop. In fact, there are still clothes of hers from the sixties, seventies and eighties: dreamed up and handmade and still holding together rather well. I may also own one of my grandma's sixties dresses that she adapted for me when I was around 20, three generations of women have worn it. I will keep it just in case the fourth generation: my daughter wants it. I call it family vintage.

Did you know that you can buy the fabrics that, for instance, Valentino works with and turn them into your own creations? That's the kind of shop it was. Everyone would tell me my grandad had a good nose for fashion (to me that was funny as I knew that my grandad had in fact lost the ability to smell any aromas of any type due to an illness).

Yes, this did mean my brother and I would be dressed to mat
Every year (and it would surprise me just how far in advance) he went on shopping trips to buy the fabrics that he thought would sell, be on trend and generally work with the people of our hometown and its surrounding area. I spent a lot of time at that shop, sometimes playing dress-up in a magical room downstairs, the same room where I lied down in pain and surrounded by the softest fabrics the day I smashed my nose at school against another girl's shoulder.

In my teens I would spend hours working out which fabric I would like for my all-important New-Year's Eve dress and what design I would like it to have. By that time Celia didn't come home every week anymore but between her and a lady in a village nearby, my wardrobe was sorted whenever my imagination told me I wanted something in particular. It has been very hard to let go of those well-made bespoke clothes throughout the years.

I also had lots of shop-bought clothes so to me this was a pleasure, my favourite part being all the fittings and being able to tell them I wanted a full skirt, as full as possible so that, when I twirled, it would take off. They also made lots of my Spanish dance (flamenco-ish) clothes for the classes I attended.

As I become, let's face it, more middle-aged, and as I am now a late thirties mum, I wish I had a Celia to come home and teach me to use a sewing machine, sit down with me and help me make dresses for my daughter and, in fact, help me turn my cross-stitch projects into finished items (I am a bit useless at that). Help me make cushions and curtains with all the fabrics from the local haberdashery (I have been there today, can you tell?). My grandma would make her own cushion covers every year, she would also make us outdoor padded mats for her garden, waterproof on one side, fabric on the other, we would fight for the best colours, cushion covers for bench cushions... It was a different generation.

Is there a Celia out there for me? Did you have a Celia in your life? I do wonder whether anyone in my area would be up to creating a group where people with expert skills get together with the not-so-expert ones to learn and help each other finish projects, as well as come up with new ones, eat cake, drink tea and coffee and perhaps, just perhaps, share a bit of gossip. I would love to learn to use a sewing machine.

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