Old crafts


I have been going to a dressmaker lately. She is a very old lady who lives in an interesting house in a quiet suburb close to the river. Her house is surrounded by a flowery garden. I must say her flowers are a lot better than mine. She has a flourishing greenhouse too. She is a dressmaker who took three years to learn her craft when she was a young girl. She is Austrian but I have a feeling she might have lived in France too. When I brought her a big length of African fabric we both stared at it in wonder. My daughter brought it back from her travels. Montreal is a cosmopolitan city but, still, you would search a while to find such colors and diamonds together. The large geometric pattern was quite a challenge if we wanted to make two or three pieces. My lady was not at all dismayed. I just gave her a vague idea of what I wanted and she was off. No pattern, of course! She just looked at me and only took one measurement. I had fittings in her most facinating house, full of her photographs, needlepoint, certificates of various awards. How annoying it is to have to be polite and not peer at people’s things. She took me upstairs at one point and showed me Innuit sculptures and my favorite, applique felt work from the North. Watercolours by Innuit, huge antlers, wooden puppets were hung amid carved framed tapestries. I think if she took me upstairs she must have liked me a little.

Her nails were not beautiful and every time I went for a fitting she apologized. Gardeners recognize the price one pays for blooms like hers so there was no offence taken. She seemed to take a delight in making the bold pattern tame under her blunt coarse fingers. “My hands are slow now,” she grumbled. She made me a dress, very simple and straight with a jacket and the broad diagonal pattern matches perfectly on the two pieces. She was delighted. There was leftover fabric so she made me a skirt too and a sort of shawl thing to wear over the dress.

She had a big workroom with a table and cupboards of fabric bolts. She was a consummate pro at her work. I wonder if anyone would ever take the time to learn a craft…an art really in our times. Today the bell on the knife sharpener’s Van ringing up and down the streets to call out the housewives with their knives and scissors was another reminder that things change. Things disappear. Will he come around for many more years? I didn’t see the farmer’s truck with strawberries this year. Perhaps I was out. I still hear the church bells peal on a Saturday for weddings. Today the dressmaker told me that the priest had a private word with her last year at her husband’s funeral. He told her that many many brides had told him that she had made their wedding dresses….without a pattern. She laughed. “A funny thing to tell me at my husband’s funeral!”But she looked happy and proud, just the same.

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