01 Aug 2012
August 1, 2012

Sidonia’s Thread

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About a year ago, Hanna Marcus contacted us about using excerts from a sewing book that Coats & Clark had published in the 1960’s for a book she was writing about her mother. Hanna shared with us a little about how she came to write the book, Sidonia’s Thread and her mother’s story:

We know you will ask–Sorry, it is out-of-print.
 When I decided to write my memoir about our life together, I wanted to write a story befitting a master seamstress. I chose to head my chapters with epigraphs using sewing methods described in Coats and Clark’s Sewing Book: Newest Methods from A to Z, a gift my mother received from an appreciative customer and which she always kept on her cutting table. Chapter titles include “Pressing,” “Marking,” “True Bias,” and “Concealed Button Loop” and perfectly fit the events described in each chapter.  Above all, I thank my mother for teaching me to “stand up straight” not only when fitting a garment, but in becoming a strong, confident, accomplished member of society.

My mother had a way with thread. When she sewed by hand, her right middle finger, shielded by a steel, dimpled thimble, skillfully pushed a threaded needle through the fabric. While sewing, she possessed the concentration of a sculptor molding clay into the desired shape, unfazed by the world around her. The thread produced neat, precise, fine-looking stitches of even lengths — in finishing a hand-worked buttonhole, sewing a hem, tacking a facing, or basting sleeves — and represented her best means of communication, speaking more eloquently than any verbal language

At the sewing machine, she could loop a spool of thread through the machine’s levers, knobs, tension points, needle, and bobbin with her eyes closed. Her right foot applied a measured, steady pressure to the foot pedal, causing the fabric to flow smoothly above the needle plate, as though propelled by a continuous gust of wind. It was most likely my mother’s way with thread that attracted people like Mrs. Alpert who gave us our first home in America.
That is how I begin my story, Sidonia’s Thread, about my life with my mother, Sidonia, who was a masterful clothes designer and seamstress, yet her remarkable skill often served as an exquisite cover for her painful secrets…secrets she kept until her death in 2006. My mother already knew how to sew in her native land of Hungary where every member of her family had sewing skill, but she really became a star when she immigrated to Springfield, Massachusetts after World War II. For over fifty years, she would become the best known designer and dressmaker in the city, sewing thousands of garments for grateful residents of Western New England. With my tall, lanky figure, my role was just to be her model, her fashion ambassador to the world.

For all my childhood, it was just my mother and me. We had no other family but a handful of cousins scattered around the United States and Europe. My mother had lost all of her immediate and extended family during the Holocaust, and when she made the decision to come to America, she already knew that she intended to make “seamstress” her occupation. After all, it was her sewing knowledge that saved her life during the Holocaust. She had broken her leg on a work detail, but the next day, when officials were seeking someone to help mend ripped seams, sew buttons, and replace broken zippers for officers and staff, she was chosen to do the job, allowing her to remain seated for the next few months. Her sewing skill had saved her life!

In America, she sewed anything and everything including dresses, skirts, pantsuits, blouses, vests, tunics, belts, and jeans in a wide variety of fabrics. I was often noticed for never repeating the same outfit for long periods of time due to her high volume of sewing production. Yet, it was not until my mother moved to elderly housing when she was eighty-five years old, and still sewing, that I uncovered her old letters and photographs that gave me clues to my paternity and heritage, her real age, and the reasons for her solitary life. Combined with a trip to her Hungarian homeland, I found the answers to the questions I had always held in my heart and discovered my true mother, a stronger, more courageous person than I had ever imagined.

To learn more about the author and the book, visit Sidoniasthread.com

For more inspiring sewing stories visit our 200th Anniversary website. The stories share there are full of family histories and inspiration.

About the Author

Lynn is Director of Consumer Services with Coats & Clark.

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