My Mother’s UFOs -Wondering Why They Weren’t Finished?

School dress - FullNancy Smeltzer, MFA

While helping to clean out my mother’s house where she had lived for fifty years before she died, I came across some of her own UFOs (Unfinished Objects). While she never did what I would call artistic sewing, she did make all of my sister’s and my clothes until we were in Junior High. This first photo is of a simple unfinished school dress (of course, we wore dresses back then!). Judging from the size of it, it would have been when one of us was in the first or second grade. The blue and white cotton fabric I imagine was chosen as it was a simple print that wouldn’t show too many stains. The wide hem is already finished, and was obviously made to be let out as one of us grew taller. The sleeves have been pressed and pinned in place, but not hemmed yet with equally long hems for letting out. The back has been pressed into place for buttonholes, but not marked yet for their placement.

Collar detail of DressThis detail photo shows the simple trim on the front of the collar of a handmade bias trim made from the same fabric as the dress. In the back, where the collar has points, there is a mitered corner in the trim. The dress was made back in the late 1950s, which was before the time of the wonderful bias trim makers that are out on the market now. Back then, you had to cut a sizeable length of the desired fabric at a 45 degree angle from the side, sew it together with the right sides facing in and then laboriously turn it inside out and press it flat. I am so glad that there are specialty tools now for the home sewer that make that job so much easier than in years gone by.

Red velvet shellThis red velveteen top that I found is finished with a zipper in the back, and lined. The only thing left would have been to either attach the bottom to a skirt, or hem it. The two darts in the bust tell me that this top was for my mother, not for my sister or myself. My mother and father went to a lot of dressy parties, so I imagine that this was for one of those affairs. He died however, when he was 36, (I was eight years old), so I imagine that is why this one was never finished. The size of it (about a modern day size 10 or 12) also suggests that this top was started at that time in my mother’s life. I imagine that at the time, she didn’t see any point in finishing it, as there was a lot of despair in her life regarding our future, and I don’t think parties were on her mind.

My mother is no longer around to ask questions about why these pieces weren’t finished. They were found stuffed in the bottom of her voluminous sewing supplies, so I imagine that she had forgotten that these pieces were still even around. However, the sewing lessons for clothes that my mother taught me are still alive inside of me, such as taking the time and care on whatever you are making. While I rarely make clothes for myself, the times we shared at the sewing machine are not forgotten.

 What sewing memories do you have from a parent or a teacher that have influenced your work? What memories are you helping to create for the next generation as you make your art work now?

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One comment

  1. James says:

    Thank you for sharing a very sweet story. And I like the UFO title!

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