XXII: Aunt Maria makes a visit.

“Oh, good!” said Mary Frances, “and, dear Fairy Lady, I want to tell you—I’ve a lovely surprise! My Aunt Maria is coming to see us.”

“Aunt Maria—oh, does she love sewing?”

“Indeed she does! She made a bed quilt when she was—let me see,—maybe—I think—it was when she was two years old.”

That’s Aunt Maria! Anything you can do she did much better, much earlier, and under worse conditions.

Aunt Maria had a competitive streak. She could have been something if she’d been raised in a time when women’s achievement’s were valued. Alas, she wasn’t. She never attained the one thing that gave women of her class worth…a husband. Time and inequality had made Maria hard.

At the start of this chapter she’s due to arrive at any minute…but first we learn how to sew on a button.

Then Katie announces our visitor, Aunt Maria.

“What are you doing, child, all alone this afternoon —are you often alone? You have no chance to cook here, I imagine.”

“No, Aunt Maria,” said Mary Frances. “I’m very busy, never-the-less.”

“Busy!” exclaimed Aunt Maria; “and what do you do, pray?”

“S’sh! Aunt Maria—it’s another secret!”

“How lovely!” smiled the old lady

“I’m—” standing on tip-toe to whisper into her aunt’s ear—”I’m learning to sew.”

“No?” exclaimed Aunt Maria. “Why, my dear child, how—how can you learn to sew? I know your grandma cannot see to teach you—her eyes are too weak.”

For the record, Katie is in the house while this is being said. Mary isn’t alone alone but the help doesn’t count. Katie is also the reason Mary won’t be cooking as much as she did the summer her mother was in a sanitarium (true).

I’m assuming pray is short for “pray tell” as I suspect praying is only part of Maria’s life when she’s pulling on church-strings for more public support of prohibition.

And, of course, Maria is making sure that Mary isn’t taxing Grandma’s eyesight with her needs. Girls must not be burdens.

Aunt Maria,” whispered Mary Frances, ”I’ve some little friends who know all about sewing, who teach me how—but it’s a ‘dead secret,’ and “you must never, never, never tell—hope you’ll die if you do—will you promise—skull and cross-bones?”

”Mercy! Child!” exclaimed the old lady, “what an awful vow! But I’ll not tell, and if I give my word—”

“Oh, I am sure you won’t. Aunt Maria,—and— some day I’ll be able to tell you all about it.”

“Is it a book—like the cooking lessons,—that delightful secret? I won’t tell.”

“My!” thought Mary Frances. “Wouldn’t Sauce Pan laugh!”

“Not exactly like that,” said Mary Frances aloud, “and I know you’ll never-never tell, Aunt Maria,— but it’s a very-very serious secret, for nobody knows— not even Mother.”

MARY FRANCES you are flirting with the darkness of the Never Never! You know you’re not allowed to speak of the Thimble People. DEAD SECRET Mary! Skull and Crossbones!

Does a dead secret mean nothing to you, Mary? It meant nothing to me until I encountered the term in this book…but now I’ll be adding it to my lexicon like it’s an established level of swearing.

If we’ve established one thing, Mary, it is that we don’t talk about Thimble People.

Sauce Pan was a member of the Kitchen Folk. The sewing book was the second in the Mary Frances series, after the cooking book. In the second volume the characters and situations from the first book are often referred to. It’s an awkward practice. In future volumes the only consistent thread is Mary’s Family…. the various folks she’s encountered are rarely ever spoken of again…as if the Thimble Folk were sent to the Never Never after all.

Skull and crossbones.

Mary goes to her sewing room, alone, to fetch her work for Aunt Marie’s approval. All the Thimble Folk are freaking out, asking questions of Mary, and generally rushing around.

Then Aunt Maria opens the door! She’d followed Mary up the stairs figuring there was no reason for Mary to bring the sewing down.

All the Thimble Folks dropped, motionless, where they had just stood.

The Never Never is so close and so cold.

“’Goodness!” exclaimed Aunt Maria as they went into the room. “Although I oughtn’t to say it—what an untidy room! My dear child, my dear child, everything ought to be put in place just as soon as you’ve used it. It never pays to lay anything down out of place. Here are needles and pins, scissors and needle-book, emery bag, and what not—tumbled over the table, and the work basket on its side! You’ll learn better, though, child.”

Aunt Maria is not allowed in my work space or home. Nope. I aspire to such order and fall short time and time again. I think I’m part squirrel. I’ve never asked my parents as that seems like a family scandal better left unknown.

A dead secret.

“ Never mind, we’ll look at your work. Very creditable, very creditable indeed, child! Such excellent stitches,” examining the little samplers, and finally the bath robe and kimono. ”You certainly do take after me. To think that so spoiled a child should develop into such an excellent character! ‘Blood will tell!’ I’ve often said it—’Blood will tell!’ “

As much as I want to have a smidge of sympathy for Aunt Maria, nothing good has ever come from a white woman proclaiming “Blood will tell” That’s some eugenics bullshit.

Aunt Maria opines that the fabric Mary’s mother has sent her is too nice for the likes of her.

“I am compelled to say less beautiful goods would have answered the purpose. When I was a little girl—well, never mind! Have you learned to make button-holes?”

You might remember that I tried hand-stitched buttonholes when I jumped ahead to make the Morning Dress…and I’ll do it again soon…but at that time I hadn’t paused to investigate what sort of tool button hole scissors are!

So I googled them. They are scissors, of course, with two special features:

A screw near the pivot point of the scissors (I’m not sure what to call that) between the scissor finger holes

A blade gap between the pivot point of the scissors and where the blade begins.

And when I saw them I knew I’d fiddled around with those in my maternal Grandmother’s sewing room…and never had any idea how they were used.

Grandma was a seriously sewist. Not in a passive-hobbiest way but in a “born dirt poor, the people raising her kept dying, managed to get an education, worked for the military in WW2, liked fancy clothing and to be stylish but couldn’t afford it, divorced an abusive husband at a time you didn’t do that, raised two kids by herself while working and fighting shitty conditions for teachers” kinda way you can get REAL good at making clothing and fixing clothing.

When she married her third and last (and best) husband…after making him court her for a good 7+ years because she wasn’t going to make any mistakes…she made me and my cousin Hope (5 and 6 years old) our flower girl dresses. She made many of my childhood outfits.

Anyway, the scissors. The screw is used to set how much the blades closes, in effect regulating the length of the cut.

That didn’t make sense to me until I found a picture of them in use…which explained the blade gap.

The gaps allows for the edge of the fabric to remain uncut while the blade cuts the set buttonhole length.

The Mary Frances book shows cutting the buttonholes before stitching but many of the videos show cutting before OR cutting after. I’ll return to trying it both ways…probably without my own buttonhole scissors (unless I see a pair during a fabric/notions run and can’t resist treating myself)

After Aunt Maria finishes her button-hole lesson, with much chiding to Mary in regards to her posture and form:

My,” exclaimed Mary Frances, “that’s the hardest thing I’ve done yet. Am I very trying to teach?”

” Well,” said the old lady, “you might be more so— but that’s a real respectable button-hole. But really, child, I must again repeat my lesson to you about neatness. Never leave your sewing room as I found it to-day.”

“There’s Grandma!” exclaimed Mary Frances, looking out the window. “Come, Aunt Maria, let’s go down.”

As Maria and Grandma set to nattering on together about old lady things, Mary returns to find Scissors Shears bitching about ‘The Old Grunt’ (Aunt Maria) , murmuring about how close they came to The Never Never, and the button hole scissors weeping because he’d wanted to be the one to teach Mary about buttonholes.

“’She is an Old Grunt! So there! It was my work to teach you to make button-holes, and I so wanted to do it!” burst out Button-hole Scissors, excitedly.

He spread his funny little legs apart and looked up at Mary Frances most forlornly.

“Rip-her-up-the-back! Butty,” growled Scissors Shears”

Scissors Shears is never not alarming in his exclamations. I wouldn’t leave him alone with my precious fabrics, that cut-crazy bladed tool.

On to the next project, which I was not excited to tackle: a doll’s pinafore. I have no modern reference for pinafores in fashion. It seemed a dated project. With easily washable children’s clothing we don’t have the same need for fancy over-aprons. Kids smocks, sure, aprons, sometimes, but nothing that boys and girls wear day-long.

And the pattern wasn’t Alice or Dorothy enough to hit my sweet Oz/Wonderland nerve…even if I had made it in the suggested gingham.

The MF pinafore starts with the same folding and cutting pattern we’ve grown used to.

To mark where straps and pockets will go on the pinafore, the directions suggest pricking the fabric through the pattern paper and then running red basting thread through the pinholes to indicate placement.

The pinafore remains open under the arms. Instead of joining the sides together they are hemmed individually.

The neck opening is large, because it must fit over the head, and square. It’s much too large for my liking as my doll has narrow, slightly sloping, shoulders.

The corners of the neck hole are slightly clipped and the fabric turned down toward the outside of the outfit, to be covered with white linen tape.

This is where I started altering the pattern because it was still no-buy November and I didn’t have linen tape … or know what it was.

It turns out that white linen tape is linen ribbon. The instructions for finishing the edges of the neck , sides, and bottom of the outfit is to sew the linen tap to the outside of the outfit, folding over at the corners to navigate the turns.

For the neck I found some black lace ribbon leftover from a dress I’d made and followed the linen-tape folding instructions to the t.

I did some machine basting I later removed.

Then I made bias tape for the sides and used a second black lace for the arm holes (arm flaps?) and bottom hem.

The straps join the front and the back of the pinafore together at the sides. Despite the fact we’ve just been taught button holes, the pinafore buttons are decorative, although if you want to you can give the straps functioning buttonholes as long and you reinforce the wrong side of the pinafore fabric with extra fabric under the button.

(If this is done, hem a small piece of goods on the wrong side of pinafore under the places for the buttons, so that the pulling of the button will not tear the goods)

I didn’t have four matching button that looked good, so I used two only and added snaps to them.

Thefinal product, with hedgehog pin used to show my awesome pocket pattern matching.

2 thoughts on “XXII: Aunt Maria makes a visit.

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