I’m Helene. I live in beautiful Melbourne, Australia. I’ve been married to Moshe since 1977… and we’re still madly in love.
I remember as a child being at my father’s dressmaking factory, with those huge cutting tables, and the cutting machines with power cords going all the way up to the ceiling. I remember how I loved to watch those machines as they zoomed around the craft paper patterns on top of super thick layers of fabric, gliding smoothly around curves, and into corners, and finally off through the selvedges. My Dad had been a tailor in his youth in Europe where, he told me – and I listened with eyes wide open in awe – he used to completely take apart men’s suits, reverse all the fabric pieces, and sew them back together into a suit to be worn as new. My mother used to embroider the most beautiful table cloths, and sew the prettiest outfits for me. Throughout my life, both parents instilled in me a profound admiration of and a deep appreciation and love of all things beautifully sewn.
But, as I recently realized, the story actually goes back a couple of generations before my father.
The above photo, taken in 1935, shows the “factory” (a.k.a. room) where my father’s grandfather worked in Kalisz, Poland. His name was Mordechai. You can see him sitting on the far left. Two across from him stands his daughter, Sala, and over on the other side of the photograph, on the far right, stands his son, Aaron Isaac, my grandfather. The only other person I know in the photo is sitting directly behind my great-grandfather (on the left), kinda in his shadow. He is Aaron Isaac (or Urnitzik, as he was called), my father’s mother’s brother – my great-uncle. This photo shows the factory where they all worked as tailors and seamstresses. If you click on the photo to enlarge it, you can just make out the old treadle sewing machines on the tables, and see the tape measures around their necks.
My mother, a lover of all things beautiful, classic, elegant, and well-made, used to sew dresses for me, with pretty embroidered collars. She’s amazing with her hands. Everything is balanced, and poised, with artistry and beauty in every touch, and whether it’s with a sewing needle in her hand, or a ball of knitting wool, or shaping mud bricks to build a house, or planting her pretty rose garden, she’s such an inspiration to me. Even in her 70s, she climbed up on a ladder with a little pot of gold paint, and a fine brush, and embellished all the cornices in every room of her house. If it can be done with her hands, she’ll do it, adding beauty and grace to everything she touches. “That’s quality!” she says.
So, I reckon that with that kind of heritage, sewing and hand-making must be in my blood, and it’s no surprise that I’m happiest when my hands are creating, whether it’s at my beautiful grand piano, or with a needle and thread, and “quality” fabric.
My Buba Guta, my father’s mother, with whom I lived for a bit as a teenager, had a fabulous treadle machine on which, at the age of 15, I sewed my very first garment. I’d cut a newspaper pattern from a favourite batik skirt. A simple pattern, no darts, nothing complicated, just a yoke, a waistband, and a zipper in the back. Once it was finished, and I’d put it on, and saw that I hadn’t done too bad a job of it at all, well that was that. It was the beginning of a lifelong passion, and I’ve been sewing ever since. I devoured pattern after pattern, using my favourite Vogue Patterns to teach myself the techniques I needed for each new thing. In my early 20s, I made dresses, jackets, pants, blouses. After my children were born, I made clothes for them, from knitted little baby outfits, to fabulous jackets and dresses as they grew.
But I have to say that the highlight of my early dressmaking endeavours was somewhere in the early 1980s when I made a trench coat for myself from this now-OOP pattern, and a beautiful length of very expensive imported grey wool plaid that I’d bought from Buckley & Nunn in the city, a great store with a fabric department on I think the 2nd floor that went all the way from Bourke to Lt. Bourke Street. Unfortunately, the store disappeared decades ago. But the double-breasted, knee-length, buckle-belted, fully lined coat, with buttoned shoulder epaulets and tabs on the sleeves, caped back with an inverted pleat secured with a buttoned tab? I loved that coat, and wore it for many years. Hated that haircut though. My hairdresser had gotten a little over-zealous. I recently found a photo of myself wearing the trench coat. I’m pregnant with no. 2 child (Gita), and I’m holding my daughter, Devorah, in my arms. She’s wearing a sheepskin jacket made my my husband’s Auntie Sala. (Gosh! There’s ‘making’ all around us!)
Back in 1975, I bought myself a Husqvarna Practica 5 Model 6230 sewing machine. It’s what I’d been sewing on until I finally bought myself a gorgeous update – the Husqvarna Opal 670. It’s a dream! I also finally got myself an overlocker, the Brother 3034D. Although I hadn’t made any clothes in years, always with the excuse that as soon as I’d reach my ideal weight, then I’d sew, I pulled out a pattern recently, and gave it a shot. I must admit, I was a little nervous about remembering how to do it all! I’m one of those perfectionist kinda seamstresses. Both my mother and my father were always so proud of how the wrong side of my work was so beautifully and neatly finished, and I don’t want to tarnish that reputation, even though Dad’s no longer here. So, I’ve begun, and all kinds of patterns and fabrics are calling to me, filling my cupboards, and piling up on my table.
This blog is about my sewing, dressmaking, quilting, knitting, and sometimes other crafty exploits. I hope you enjoy reading it.
PS. I recently opened a little online store called Stitch 56 where I’m selling some lovely sewing patterns, bag hardware, interfacing, a bit of gorgeous fabric, and other “necessary” things. Drop in some time.