The threshing machine was stored for the year. Harvest was over. Summer was winding down, and it was just three weeks until school opened, and I remember Mother opening up the sewing machine. We knew it was time for “fittings” for the school clothes that Mother miraculously turned out from the stack of material lying on the living room table. The material was a mixed lot of new material, feed-sack material, hand-me—down clothes to be sized, and material cut from clothes sent by my childless aunt who was a nurse in Denver and my aunt that worked in an office in Sioux City. Some of the clothing was painstakingly taken apart and pressed and sometimes used inside out if the material looked newer that way! No piece of material escaped the “fitting eye” and the sharp scissors of my mother when she embarked on her school-sewing binge! Mother was an accomplished seamstress. She attended a tailoring school in Chicago and afterwards went from home to home for however long it took to sew clothing for the entire family. She could make men’s clothing; her bound buttonholes were truly something to behold!

I can recall those hot August afternoons when my brother and sisters would gather around the radio and listen to “Dutch” Reagan broadcast the baseball games. We were all avid baseball fans. The problem was we all were for different teams! I was for the New York Giants; my brother was a St. Louis Cardinal’s fan; my one sister was and still is an avid Chicago Cub’s fan, and my other sister was in favor of the Pittsburgh Pirates. How we arrived at our choice of teams I have no idea, but I remember that we had many a meal, touting our favorite team’s latest statistics and accomplishments which invariably turned into quite an argument! Ever since, when I listen to broadcasts of baseball games, I can hear the ever persistent whir of the old treadle sewing machine as my mother pedaled away. The radio and the sewing machine were in the same room. We knew better than to get into too loud an argument, or my mother would banish us to an outdoor chore such as carrying water to the house, or worse yet, hoeing the garden or cleaning out the hen house!

I know now that there were many times she would have liked to have us go to different parts of the farm, but she also knew she could not get a “fitting” on us if we were too far away! So by mutual consent we bore the noise of the treadle sewing machine, and she put up with Dutch Reagan’s voice excitedly announcing a home run and our incessant chatter! By the way, yes, “Dutch” Reagan, later known as Ronald Reagan, became president of the United States.

My mother never bought patterns. She had learned to make her own patterns. She would measure us up and down and crossways and then cut a pattern from an old newspaper or grocery sack. When she was sure that the pattern was the right size, she would lay the pattern on the material and cut it out. Our clothing always seemed to fit, so in retrospect, I think, she did a good job! I’m sure she allowed a little for our growth but not to the extent that the clothes were “baggy”!

My mother would individualize and decorate we three girls’ dresses with ruffles, buttons, or bows. During the depression years, we usually had matching bloomers if there was enough material left. If there wasn’t enough material left, the bottom part of the bloomers matched the dress. The upper part to the waist was made of muslin or whatever scraps were available to complete the sewing job. Mother also made my brother’s shirts. I remember once when she found, to her distress, that she had been working so long on the girls’ blouses and dresses that she forgot and had my brother’s shirt button the wrong way! After the buttonholes were made, it couldn’t be reversed. I can’t remember my brother making too much of a fuss about that. As long as his St. Louis Cardinals won, he was happy!

I wish I had some of the dresses that Mother made to show my grand­daughter, but I am sure that since I was the oldest of the girls, I suspect my dresses were handed down one or two times and by that time were ready to fall apart or add to the rag bag!

Now when I listen to ball games or watch them on TV, there always seems to be something missing. Of course, it’s the pumping and whir of the old foot-powered treadle sewing machine operated by my mother! That was truly “pedal power”!

Written by Evelyn Halverson

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