The Blouse

We hardly ever call a blouse a blouse in these days of tops and tees and such. Yet in Mrs. Helsel’s 1967 eighth grade homemaking class (to which only girls were admitted – boys were relegated to ‘shop), we were required to sew an A-line skirt and a blouse. With darts, a tuck sewed perpendicular to the rib-side of the garment. I remember perusing Sears and selecting a dark-not-navy poplin for the skirt and a simple lightweight bedsheet-white cotton for the blouse, then eagerly combing through P.B. Carroll’s for just the right colored spools of thread while being mindful not to omit straight pins, crimson pin cushion in the shape of a tomato and a Dritz tracing wheel with indigo carbon paper. I still possess these items in my closet, though they haven’t seen use in decades.

For my care and precision, I received a duly protested B-minus at the end of the term. My garments were thoughtfully crafted if not perfect, but the teacher was adamantly unmoved. Mrs. Helsel,  a short woman with copper red hair set with foam rollers in a retro bubble style popular in the 1950’s, didn’t seem to keen to my dark eyes, snarky sense of humor and shapely curves. As homemaking was my only non-academic subject, she might well have been the only teacher who ever disliked me as a student. Her small rebellion was to give me the only B I was to receive in a sea of straight A‘s.

In those times and perhaps it remains so to this day, I could sense a teacher’s yearning for the occasional student who reflected their worth back to them as Educator, and I was known to provide good grist for that particular mill. Raised Mormon in a heavy-handed household, I knew how to play by the rules. But hormones had begun flowing in earnest, and I had my own trail to blaze which included, still includes, an eclectic choice of colorful companions. And though I savored these unique comrades like small victories each time I donned that simple A-line skirt, it wore me like a shortcoming and I eventually abandoned it to Goodwill.

As a post-script, forty-five years later with bouts of sewing in between (a Sesame Street Ernie doll for my eldest that was as tall as she, numerous custom Halloween costumes, a neverending stream of sewing and mending), I ventured across Hawaii island to a tiny import store. It was there I selected yardage from a few bolts of lovely welterweight Japanese cotton fabric, and within a few days began laboring over my sewing machine, turning out two Aloha shirts, one pair of wrap-around pants and a vest for Christmas presents. All gifts were received with great admiration, and my husband still garners the occasional compliment from admiring strangers. I would wager a bet I’m the only one in that eighth-grade class still sewing, much less enjoying it.

And no, I never went back to church.


34 thoughts on “The Blouse

  1. Did anyone really enjoy Home Ec? ;-D But I must admit, the lessons learned were keepers. Life skills I’ve put to good use. While I loved algebra, can’t say I ever have used it. Today, there’s no Home Ec and most kids don’t know how to sew, let alone cook.

    1. Haha, Eliza – well. I would have liked it fine, except this woman made it tough, but it might have simply been my rebellious streak at that time, which would have been (extremely) unconscious. I was spoiled, too, to have some of the best teachers all through my youth. And so. (Or sew ;))

      And agreed, without classes like this, kids do grow up without basic ‘homemaking’ skills, which is a shame.

      Also funny you loved Algebra – I did, as well. Now? Hmmm. All I must say is I think it taught me to think more abstractly and broadly. So I am grateful for that learning, and geometry as well.

      Cheers, and take care ❤

  2. Oh geez. I was probably the only one in my class who almost failed Home Ec, except for the kid who thought you didn’t have to brown the ground meat when you made spaghetti sauce. His meat sauce was almost alive when it touched down on the noodles. Glad you’re still blazing trails, Bela!

    1. Funny, Elisa! Omg, that’s funny about the ground meat – yikes. (Although I used to eat bits of raw hamburger as a kid – not often, yet as a mostly lifelong vegetarian, I simply must come clean about it.)

      Hoping you’re enjoying your week so far. Aloha! ❤

    1. Thank you, Val! I was pretty proud of it, given the time that had elapsed between my last sewing efforts (photo taken in what, 2008?). And I’ve not done any ambitious sewing projects since then, but you ought to see my garden! 😀 xoxo

  3. Your nostalgic post reminded me of those days when we were expected to sew and embroider, which was considered to be essential for girls. I learnt my basic lessons in this craft at school. I was good at embroidery but didn’t like sewing! 🙂 I don’t remember getting good grades in this skill. I am glad you still enjoy it!

    1. Well, I did learn to embroider as well, but it was the Mormon church that taught me that particular skill. I also learned to knit but never got the crochet thing down. I once knit a pretty fantastic sweater while spending a month traveling in Greece, though because I made it of raw wool I bought there, it was too scratchy to wear. I’m pretty sure my sister has it in her possession to this day.

      I do like to design my own clothing, and perhaps in another life I’d have been a clothing designer. But it takes so much focus, and I just don’t have that kind of singular ambition anymore. It’s fun just to flow with the day and see where it takes me with an appointment or two here and there. Suits me fine at this stage of things.

      Sending you love across the miles, Balroop! ❤

  4. thanks for making me smile this morning… reviewing life’s journey from this vantage point often offers some genuine (and well earned) affirmation/satisfaction.

    1. Ohh, I’m glad it made you smile, weaver! 😀 It’s so funny to reflect upon situations which, at the time they occurred, seemed far more dire than they ever could today. But even so, seared themselves into memory.
      Cheers, luvvie ❤

    1. Haha, you are so entertaining, H ❤ So clevah 🙂 I loved that I found those buttons at some silly big box store – who knew? And now you have me good and truly stumped – I cannot find a translation for that phrase, though it appears to be Japanese – perhaps their own form of je ne sais quoi? Big hugs xoxo

  5. I should have failed my final project for Home Ec. The “exam” was to sew something to wear. Of course, I picked a red prom dress where everyone else did a Potholder or apron. My best friend’s Mom ended up finishing it for me. Who would of thought years later I would have ended up designing dresses? The Universe has a weird sense of humor.

    1. This is hilarious. And yes, the gods most definitely have a sense of humor. Funny how it worked out that you got into clothing design! I had a longtime career counseling people and switched it up by going to interior design school. Completed it and updated my website, but haven’t really struck out with any grand scheme for it yet. I’ve designed homes inside and out forever with my contractor husband, so nothing new. I’m just not in a career building phase, so who knows. Sometimes I think I missed my calling as a clothing designer(!) Frustrated at women’s choices sometimes. But with our low-key lifestyle, what I have is good enough. Cheers, and thanks for the follow 😉

  6. Loved this story about your sewing endeavors. I was taught by my mother to sew, although I did take one class in school. Mother sewed all of my clothes until I learned and began sewing them at age 13. I haven’t sewed in years except to mend or take up hems but did sew for my children on occasion when they were very young. My oldest daughter took it up only after my mother passed and she inherited her serger. It sounds to me like you did quite well. 🙂

    1. Thanks Renee for you kind compliment. That’s cool you mom made your clothes and taught you to sew. I never forgot ‘how,’ though I must admit patterns have gotten a bit more complex. I love to sew by taking things apart and using old garments as patterns, but don’t always have that luxury. And I’ve not felt motivated to sew in awhile. But you know, the desire always does come back 😉 ❤

  7. Loved this post and photo Bela.. 🙂 and the choice of material.. wonderfully sewn.. And as a Machinist for the best part of 30 years.. In my school years I made an A line dress.. and a shift dress which buttoned through. with sleeves.. I still have the buttons of that dress somewhere as I cut them off as they were square and multi coloured.. The material in the 60’s being flower power Pinks Purples and Lime greens.. 🙂 … 🙂 Beautiful garment.. 🙂

    1. Oh, my! Love that you saved those buttons! I wish I had saved the corduroy suit my mom made for me, but it’s long gone. What a piece of work. She also once made me a dress that was navy blue with a hot pink trim for that very time period(!) Sounds like you’re right in her league. I ‘can’ sew and will do again, but patterns have changed and seem far too complicated – I’d rather pull an old garment apart and sew a new one from that ‘pattern.’ Perhaps that’s what I’ll do – find some hideous garment or another at the thrift store that fits me like a glove – and make one out of fabulous fabric. Thanks for the inspiration! :DDDD Love ❤

      1. Big smiles..Yes I made dresses for my daughter and remember all those fancy coloured long legged shorts in the 70’s I made both my Son and daughter loads.. And dresses and blouses right up into the 80s.. But then I went as a working full in the factories in textiles and had enough sewing all day that I had a struggle to even sew a button on hubbies shirt if they came off.. LOL.. I try my hand every now and again.. You should have see the upholstering of chairs I did a few years ago ..

      2. Yup – being a designer among other things, I’ve done this very thing (upholstering)! I’ve upholstered overstuffed sofas and chairs as well, back in the day. Gosh, you even worked in textile factories – wow. That must have been arduous work, dear woman. I wouldn’t blame you if you never sewed on another button! Big Love! ❤

      3. Yes started out aged 15. Pushed into it to earn some money for my parents.. left age 20 when I got married, moved locations had my family returned at 26 working piece work to another factory when hubby couldn’t find work after his place closed.. worked my way up the ladder for next 13 yrs through design sample garments, then training, quality and then personnel officer left when had a break down and got another job in another textile factory spent a further 5 years climbing.. Went out to Sri Lanka to train out there for a few weeks.. Spent about 28 yrs in the trade.. Then left to switch for the last 11 yrs in Support work and mental Health.. 🙂 And yes lots of days I never saw the Sun with no windows.. long hours and hard work.. Which is why I so appreciate being Outside. in Mother Nature.. 🙂 lol..
        And I am not surprised at all you are hands on with your crafts in sewing.. LOL..And I am impressed if you were a designer.. I worked with some brilliant women designers in textiles ladies wear..

      4. Yes, home design is my second profession – almost 30 yrs in medical intuition counseling/radio/writing, too much. Now getting demands to get back into it, and will do, but with further structure and considerations so i don’t suffer burnout – working to redesign my website just now – had taken it all down and replaced it with the home design stuff. Wish i’d had six of me and i would have loved to design clothing, as well. xoxoxo

      5. 🙂 wow.. you have also Bela had an impressive career path.. And you will follow your heart.. 🙂 as to getting back into it.. As we get older we learn to say NO more often than in our earlier years.. I know I would try to please and meet deadlines.. etc.. Now its good to Please myself.. 🙂 🙂 ❤

      6. Exactly. We can see the end of the road, and we know the value of the time that remains. Yet I’ll still do my service to humanity bit, as it’s natural for me as breathing. But foot down, for sure this time. No giving away until I have nothing left for the garden! 😉

  8. Love the shirt!

    Your story reminds me of my college days. All A’s, except one. Respect from all teachers, except one. It should have been the easiest A I ever earned, but alas, to make an A in college choir, you have to actually show up for almost every session. I could skip my other classes occasionally and still pull A’s because I studied…hard. Well, my professor saw the need to put an end to that attitude, and I graduated with a 3.992 GPA.

    1. Hahaha – yes, I can relate. Skipping classes and still pulling straight-A’s. Me too. Glad you liked the shirt 😉 Thanks for popping on by and taking time to comment!

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