This month’s From Left to Write Book Club selection is all about a young lady, Emmalee, setting out to earn a living by getting a job at the local shirt factory.
On her first day, with only the experience of a Home Economics class in high school (before she dropped out), she is placed next to an older seamstress, Leona, and expected to make shirt collars, getting paid by collar finished. The two women form a strong bond, and when Leona is tragically killed in a car accident Emmalee wants to make the dress she will be buried in.
She wants it to be special and meaningful, just like Leona was to Emmalee.
OK, now these book reviews are not supposed to be traditional, so I will taper off on the rest of the plot, but as an avid sewer myself I was quite keen on reading about the dress Emmalee made for Leona. I tried to imagine what the dress would look like and what it was like for Emmalee to sew it.
The fabric for the dress is described as being made from dark red damask fabric with little drape bought for $60 a yard to make slip covers for a sofa and club chairs. $60 a yard in 1974!!! That has got to be some type of silk blend, or maybe velvet? Here are some home fabrics I found at Mood in the same price range, but this is 2013 prices, not 1974.
I don’t know about you, but I’ve never spent $60/yd on fabric for a dress, or slip covers, or anything! But, these fabrics are gorgeous and would make a great slipcover, and even a dress, in my opinion. (My fave is the top one, what about you?)
Anyway, back to the dress. For a pattern, Emmalee uses a dress from Leona’s closet and traces it. I know it has long sleeves with cuffs and a collar. It should have a back zipper, but Emmalee doesn’t need to put it in since the dress is a “burying dress.”
Now, if Emmalee is tracing this from a dress and making her own pattern it cannot be too tricky of a dress design. Emmalee makes collars for a living, she is not a pattern drafter. Also, Leona is a hard working woman living just above the poverty line, so I am guessing a simple day dress from the early 60s is what she would have in her closet. Something like one of these, but long sleeves (and a collar for the top image).
After the dress is sewn, Emmalee sets out to make the dress sentimental and special. She adds a narrow blue band sewn to end of the cuffs on the sleeves with a cream colored lace peeking out. The blue fabric was taken from one of Leona’s husband’s work shirts (also killed in the car accident) and the lace was from a small pillow tenderly placed on one of the beds. I imagine it looking something like this
but with the blue band around the lace where the beads are in this photo (source).
The book also describes hand needle stitches that look like vines on the collar. Apparently Leona taught Emmalee more than how to sew a collar, huh? When several of the other seamstresses see the dainty stitches they are extremely impressed, so it must be really special Maybe something like this?
Maybe I’m not giving Emmalee enough credit. She admits she doesn’t know how to sew a zipper, but I can’t hand embroider, so who am I to judge.
As the final special touch, Emmalee sew to the inside of the garment directly over Leona’s heart a picture of her infant son who died after only a few hours of life. That way, they would always be together.
This dress sounds absolutely lovely to me. It’s a real shame it had to be a funeral dress.
No one has ever entrusted impoverished Emmalee with anything important but she takes it upon herself to sew her mentor’s resting garment in The Funeral Dress by Susan Gregg Gilmore. Join From Left to Write on October 15th as we discuss The Funeral Dress. As a member, I received a copy of the book for review purposes.