The other day I was in a thrift store and stumbled across an old collection of dress patterns. It brought me back to the days when my mother and I would drive down to Gold’s Fabrics at Arbutus and 12th in Vancouver. My mother could sew and knit and despite trying to teach me numerous times, I resisted and instead suggested I just be her model. My mother was quite an accomplished seamstress and spent countless hours at the sewing machine creating outfits for me, and sometimes my sister, various household items like curtains, and repairing the clothes of her large family in order to save money. The dresses she made for me, despite my creative direction however, never turned out the way I wanted. I never had the heart to say I didn’t like it as she beamed up at me from cutting a thread off the hem of the finished dress. But I knew in my heart that was how it would always be because of our trips to Gold’s Fabrics.
We would walk in and to the right of the heavy glass doors were row upon row of drawers of patterns organized by designer. At the front were Simplicity, McCall’s, and Butterick, and other what I considered ‘average’ patterns that my mother liked to frequent. At the back were the more expensive patterns; this is where I skidaddled to in my hand-me down clothes and dusty flip-flops I may or may not have inherited from my brother.
I dove into those drawers and pulled out each package, turning it gently over in my hands, looking carefully at the evening dresses, the styling of hair and makeup of each illustration and lost myself in Vogue’s chic style. Sometimes my mother would come around and poke her nose over my shoulder and make her usual tsking sound and sometimes, if I pointed out how she could, if she tried, easily fashion a gown for me, she would start walking away saying with a small shake of her head, “oh no, no, no” as though I had just asked her to drive me in a convertible to the moon.
I realized I was up against a mountain that wouldn’t move. There was no swaying my mother over to my haute couture world. She was seeking simple, cheap, easy-to-make and I was hoping for Chanel. Sometimes I would try to persuade her to jazz it up with creative buttons or ribbon or coloured zippers which could be found for miles in the centre of the warehouse-size store. She would laugh as though my request was absurd and sometimes I found my foot coming down hard on the linoleum floor in my frustration. This would make her tsk again and say, “Margaret, you have champagne tastes on a beer budget I’m afraid.” This was always her go-to phrase when she felt I was reaching too far. As in a fuchsia zipper or rhinestone button.
Maybe it was because my mom grew up on a farm and lived through the Depression. Maybe because, despite living in Point Grey in a big house, she never had much money. Or maybe she was a simple woman who was content with what she had in life, something I am only now in my forties seeing the value of: life as it is rather than life as I imagine it in my head.