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The Christmas Dress

(From the book: Christmas in Dairyland — True Stories from a Wisconsin Farm; August 2003; trade paperback; http://ruralroute2.com) From the time I was a very little girl, I had always loved to watch my big sister, Loretta, when she was sewing. So, one Sunday afternoon while she worked on the red velveteen jumper that was going to be my Christmas outfit, I didn’t want to miss a single thing. Because it was Sunday and Loretta did not have to go to work at the electric company, she was dressed casually in a white sweater and a pair of periwinkle blue slacks that matched her eyes. Loretta was an assistant bookkeeper at the electric cooperative that supplied electricity to our farm and to many of the rural areas in our county. I could still smell the perfume that she had worn when we went to church that morning.

The bottle said it was called Lily of the Valley. As Loretta spread the fabric on the kitchen table, I stood as close to her as possible, practically breathing down her neck. When you live on a farm and the next-door neighbors are elderly and no other neighbors live on your mile-long stretch of road with children for you play with, and in fact, no other children live within several miles, what else is there to do on a Sunday afternoon in December except pester your big sister? “What’s this stuff for again?” I asked, taking a sheet of waxy paper out of an envelope. “That’s tracing paper,” Loretta said. “I use it to make lines so I know where the seams should go.

” I picked up the tracing wheel. “And that’s what this is for, right?” In a way, the tracing wheel reminded me of the spurs worn by all the cowboys in my favorite Westerns on television. I would have given almost anything to be a cowboy. My sister glanced at me. She was busy pinning the pattern to the fabric. “Yes. That’s the tracing wheel.” I watched for a moment. “Can I help? Pleeeeease?” Loretta smiled. “Sure.

See how I’ve got the pins put in on this side? You can do the same on the other side.” I happily started pinning the pattern onto the fabric. The pins were the kind with little colored balls of plastic on the end: blue, green, white, yellow and red. Pinning the pattern was easy. Push the pin through the sheer pattern paper and the fabric, and then angle it to come out on top again. Push the pin through the fabric and angle it upwards. Push the pin, angle it up. Everything went along just fine—for about the first six pins, anyway—until I bumped the pin container and knocked it onto the floor. I never knew pins would scatter so far when they fell from the kitchen table and hit linoleum. My sister looked at me, looked at the pins on the floor—and sighed.

After what seemed like a long time, we managed to retrieve all of the pins. “I’ll just finish this part,” Loretta said. “It’ll go faster that way.” Then it was time to cut out the pattern. As my sister expertly wielded the scissors, I couldn’t help but think it looked like tremendous fun. “Can I do that?” She paused. “Ummmm—why don’t you find the white tracing paper for me. That would be a big help.” I considered her suggestion. “How come it has to be white?” “Because it will show up better on this red fabric.

” “But wouldn’t blue be all right?” I thought the blue paper was very pretty. “No, the white is fine.” “Yellow?” I asked. Loretta shook her head. “Pink?” “Just get out the white. That’ll be the best.” I pulled the white tracing paper out of the envelope, and then, as Loretta continued to work, I kept right on asking questions: What happens if you don’t pin the pattern? (It won’t stay in place when you cut the fabric.) What’s that funny scissors for? (A pinking shears; it keeps the material from unraveling around the edges.) What are you going to do with the scraps? (Cover the buttons.


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