Somewhere in time… the 1940s Butterick dress

The truth of motherhood is, that whilst 99.9% of the time you want to be the cool, fun Mum you thought you’d be before you had kids, there are going to be some days that you are just getting by and you rely on the “little” things to try and make your little people happy. The last week has been busy. I have no clue how my friends with more than children find time to sleep and rest! Two keeps me quite busy. And in getting caught up in the ‘busy-ness’ I think its super important to take time to relax. Or just have a cup of tea (or wine) and have your thoughts to yourself.

One of my favourite things to do for “quiet mummy time” if I am not too exhausted in the evenings is pull out some of my treasured catalogs or look over my patterns. My to-make list is of course endless, but sometimes it is really interesting to just look at a design and analyse it… what makes it different? Special? What makes it work? Do I want to make it? There is potential in every pattern…, every pattern could be come a dress… and the dress could become apart of a special moment….

Butterick 3714

Butterick 3714

Whilst looking at Butterick 3714, I kept on remembering a dress in a photo of my grandmother and her friend, taken in the 40s. I love the photo. My grandmother looks somewhat serious, her friend is looking at someone unseen, they’re holding hands, a gesture which speaks of great friendship. There is an unmistakable sense of happiness in this picture, of occasion. Possibly a wedding but all the caption on the back says is “Beryl and close friend”. I have to admit I also love it because in an age where people simply delete images that don’t comply with the “rules” (everyone looking at the camera, everyone smiling, hair falling just so), there is an element of Cartier Bresson’s sense of “moment” in this image.

But when I dug the photo out and compared the pattern…, voila… magic… What are the chances that I would actually own or even recognise the dress pattern in this photo? Seriously there had to be thousands of photos sold and used in Australia during those years… But there it was, the jewel neckline with the single button, the double sleeve effect echoed with the partial peplum… its quite distinctive…. it had to be the dress? I was convinced it was the dress.

It felt funny, this discovery. It brought that moment in the past so much closer, it wasn’t just a black and white world, the people in the picture seemed that little bit more alive to me. And as for my grandmother, who passed when I was a baby and whom I knew only through the many stories my father and others told me- proud, loyal, feisty, proper- I felt a little bit closer to her world, as it had been. I have a few photos of her and I think from what I have been told we would have gotten along royally…

A few years ago I visited my Italian Godmother who had been my grandparents neighbour in Hobart for decades- its a little street that I think looks a lot like it would have done in the 1940s. Each morning when my Godmother raised the shutters, it was apparently the “signal” to my grandmother that it was time to come for coffee. They would sit and drink Italian espresso when their chores were done.

That story always stuck with me, life didn’t always serve her what she wanted. It must have been hard for her, her only son conscripted for Vietnam… and when he came back, he never returned to Hobart to live. I have other photos, though not many, she clearly enjoyed keeping up with the fashions… from the 30s with Wallis Simpson fluttery elegance, the winged sleeves of 50s housewife glamour to the fresh sophistication of the 1960s… what interesting times she lived in.

Whenever my husband and I visit, as we are about to in a few weeks, I drive past that house where my dad was raised and where the photo was probably taken. I think its important for my kids to know where their family is from. Its also my way of remembering people who were so important to me.

We might not do everything right or perfectly as parents or as people. But I think the best we can hope for is that when all is said and done, we have done our best and are remembered. And stopping for that espresso, those stolen moments to oneself, of pressing the pause button… that is all really important. It was a good week to feel connected to the past.