As long as I could remember, my wonderful mother did not have a new dress. She made do by fixing it up, making it do or going without.
In the fall of 1954, I was a junior in high school and I was determined to make my mother a new dress. After tending neighbor children all summer for 35 cents per hour, I had enough money to purchase a small portable sewing machine. I had saved $40 and the machine cost $39.99. After purchasing my great machine, I immediately started making aprons with any piece of material I could find. I also made a circle skirt, which did not take a pattern, just a ruler.
I kept tending children on Saturdays and some evenings. I finally had enough money to buy a pattern and material to sew my mother a dress for Christmas. Around November I had saved $10. I rode the bus to town and made my purchase.
I had 10 cents for the bus ride to town. If I had 10 cents left over after my purchase, I would ride the bus home. Otherwise I would walk home. Our family lived on what was then called 3200 South just one block off of State Street.
I went to Grants, and after looking through the pattern books I decided on a pattern for the dress. I had never used a pattern, so I asked the clerk questions on what I needed, and she helped me figure it all out. I bought some pretty blue pique material that would be nice for all year. I had a little sister just 15 months old, so I bought her a small stuffed bear. I still had money left over, so I bought everyone else in my family socks, even my father. I was able to buy them each two pair. I walked home and was so excited to start sewing my mother's Christmas dress. I worked out a plan that after school on the days I didn't tend neighbor children I would tell my mother and siblings that I was making Christmas presents and I needed to do it in private.
The mattress on my bed was very firm, so setting the machine on the bed and also using the bed to cut the pattern worked very well. I had just enough material, so I could not afford to make mistakes. It took a couple of nights to get the dress cut out. The skirt was easy because it was pleated and the top did not have a zipper, just buttons. I had to kneel on the floor to push the pedal, but it worked fine. It took both hands to guide the cloth. I had to purchase some buttons, so it took some more tending to get them. After a lot of time and some unpicking, I finally completed my mother's dress. As I put the final hem in I was so happy I could hardly wait for my mother to open my gift on Christmas morning. We had saved brown paper sacks, so I cut one up and used it to wrap the gift. I had some string to close the package, and I wrote Mother "Merry Christmas" on my gift. It was two days before Christmas as I put my gifts to my sisters, brothers and father and mother under the tree.
Christmas morning my parents always made sure everyone was dressed and we had eaten our oatmeal breakfast before lining up to enter the front room. Dad went in ahead and plugged in the tree lights. As soon as we were all in the room I gave my mother her present. Everyone else was looking at the unwrapped gifts that Santa had left. My mother asked who was it from, and I said, "Me, please open it." She slowly and carefully unwrapped the gift. As the paper fell to the floor she held the dress up and said, "Nancy, where did you get this?" I told her that I had sewed it for her. Tears filled her eyes. I said, "Mother, try it on." She quickly went into her bedroom and put the dress on. As she walked back into the front room her eyes were still making tears. She said it was the most beautiful dress she had ever had. I was so happy.
All day long as we visited relatives she would proudly tell everyone that Nancy made the dress for her. I have never since had such a wonderful Christmas as the one with my mother and her new dress.
About the author
Nancy Strong was born and reared in Salt Lake City but spent a lot of her time in Mammoth, Juab County. She graduated from Granite High School and attended both the University of Utah and Weber State. Nancy and her husband, Richard, have been married for 46 years. They have eight children and 11 grandchildren. She is a secretary at an elementary school. Nancy likes to teach piano lessons, sew, crochet, read and ride her bicycle.