My mother was an expert at “making things over”, as she called it. She was born in 1916, raised by a widowed mother with three other children and married with children herself during the depression. She had to make do and make over and she loved it. She had some well-to-do relatives who visited occasionally and brought big boxes of their castoff clothing. My father was indignant but Mother was thrilled. This is one of our more affluent cousins who brought her old clothes to us.
Nothing went to waste – Mother made some of the clothes over for herself and used the material from others to make things for my sister and me. It wasn’t only a matter of saving money, but of being able to remodel clothing and have something different to wear.
Her “making over” extended to the house, too. For most of her life she had dreary flats and river houses to make into comfortable homes, and very little money to work with. She cut up old items to make skirts to hide ugly sink pipes in the kitchen, cheerful covers for a daybed, bright curtains and bedspreads. Our living quarters were always attractive, neat and clean from a one-room flat of my earliest memories to a two-room flat and then upgrading to a four-room apartment, a little red brick house on the river bank and an 1895 stucco house on the avenue.
Up until she was 37 years old in 1953, Mother had never had a new coat. She had remodeled castoff coats through the years, including one old fur coat which was transformed into a modern 1950s cape and worn by my grandmother in this Easter picture.
Mother wore her made-over coats with pride but what she really wanted was a brand-new, fresh coat and she bought one in 1953 with her earnings from her first job at Shillito’s department store in downtown Cincinnati. It didn’t cost very much, but it was new and after that she bought more coats than she really needed, provided they were on sale, of course.
As Mother grew older with her kids grown and more money to spend, she continued to sew most of her own clothes such as this one, described as the first dress sewn on her new White sewing machine (1957). I remember the dress as being a pretty shade of green and we thought the matching ruffles on the white gloves were a wonderful touch.
When Mother passed away in 1991, one of the things I brought home was a big bag of scraps from dresses she had been working on, right up to the end.