Indian Ribbon Dresses for the Powwow

During my “off season” of opera sewing (summer), I work on paid commissions, which range from basic necessities to uncharacteristic requests. In the summer of 2021, I was approached by my dear friend, Faith, and her mother to make three Indian ribbon dresses for Faith’s daughters, Hope and Ruby, and their cousin, Grace. The Native American heritage is an important aspect of Faith’s family and I was happy to do it ─ starting next summer. My schedule was booked for the season and my soonest available start time would be June 2022. Keeping that promise, I set my course for uncharted territory once Lucia wrapped in late May.

Indian Ribbon Dresses

When trying to envision how the dresses would look, I didn’t have a clue and I certainly didn’t want to go against the norms of cultural standards. I quizzed Faith extensively. Throughout the process, she was cooperative and sent me many pictures of what the dresses were supposed to look like. Since the design details were the choice of the family, Faith asked for the bodices to be stretchy (shirred) so that the girls could grow into them.

The shirred dress Faith sent me as an example

Looking for shirred bodice patterns online led me to Sew Jahit’s free tutorial with shirred straps.

Sew Jahit’s Shirred Bodice

Confession: I had never shirred a piece of fabric in my life !! With gulps of trepidation, I determined it would be best to send mock-ups so proper sizing could be assessed and to also give shirring a trial run. Haplessly, I ran out of muslin during the cutting process so scrap fabrics had to be substituted. Here’s Hope’s mock-up with sleeve variations…

And here’s Hope wearing it…

Grace and Ruby’s mock-ups followed the same procedure…

The pictures of the girls in their mock-ups sent me into risible fits: they looked like ragamuffins begging for alms in the street with their motley ensembles ! Despite the shabby appearance of the stand-in dresses, the mock-ups accomplished their purpose as I was able to fine tune the pattern measurements for the girls. Onto the real dresses !

I chose to use cotton batik fabric as the base for the dresses. With slight color variations and subtle patterns, it allowed for a more “textured” look and promised an added dimension to the largely plain areas of the dresses. Faith and her sister, Angel, had made a list of the colors of ribbons they preferred and together we worked to come up with the best and most culturally relevant schemes.

Working on the color schemes for the dresses

Sewing for a long distance client has a way of setting me on tenterhooks since I have no way of fitting and measuring in person. After much back-and-forth of sending pictures on Facebook Messenger, the dresses were completed and now it was time to ship them off to Idaho… Would they fit ?

I think that’s a “yes !”

The dresses were a perfect fit and the girls were able to go to the powwow in style.

Designing dresses for these girls was such a joy as they are tûtawi’u’ (that’s Pawnee for “full of life”). And they’re just adorable. Don’t you agree ?

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Remembering Mina

Genealogy is a pastime that many people pursue with a gambler’s passion. Addictive, the sport can lead posterity into an endless funnel of personal discoveries and historical finds. But I’ve never been one those people… until recently. When my grandmother died in 2020, the castoffs of old family photos found their way inadvertently into my hands and an insatiable curiosity soon followed. “Who were these people ?” I wondered. Several ancestors sparked interest for an immediate research project, but at the top of the list was my great-grandmother, Erma.
In celebrating her birthday month, I thought it would be fun to share the accomplishments and anecdotes of a woman who loved life and everything in it.

Erma Reynolds

Born in Newark, NJ, Erma Eleanor Schoop shared her August 15th birthday with a very famous emperor. Perhaps you’ve heard of him ?

Napoleon Bonaparte

She was the daughter of a Methodist minister and moved frequently as a child, wherever her father was assigned a parsonage. Spending family vacations at Chautauqua Lake, NY, was a favorite memory of Erma’s. So much so, that she often traveled back to the resort community throughout her life, usually bringing her friends in tow.

Chautauqua Lake, NY

Having settled in Columbus, OH, during her senior year of high school, Erma went on to enroll at Ohio State University at a time when most women did not go to college.

During her years at college, Erma visited her brother and his wife in Florida and attended a dance at a hotel. It was there that she met a citrus grower named Bob Reynolds. Romance ensued and they knew they wanted to be married. So Bob travelled to Ohio to talk things over with Erma’s father. Although agreeing to the union, her father had one caveat: “She has to graduate from Ohio State first !”

She indeed graduated and the couple married on July 18, 1928. Miraculously, her wedding gown remains in the family. Although it has yellowed from decades bygone, the flapper style dress is still in fairly good shape despite a few tears in the lace overlay. My cousin, Allison, modeled the dress recently during a photoshoot at Bok Tower Gardens.

My cousin, Allison, modeling Erma’s wedding dress.

Of all the questions that darted around in my mind, the most pressing query I had as I began my research on Erma surrounded her involvement in the P.E.O. Sisterhood.

Ever since I was a child, I would hear stories about how Erma served as the Florida state president from 1958-59 and was very active in her home chapter, U. My search produced fruitful results. In reading through one of Erma’s many diaries, I discovered that she was initiated into Chapter U on May 3, 1938 ─ just a few years after the chapter had been formed. Almost all of her life she was an active member, even attending the International Convention in Philadelphia in 1952.

Erma (far right) with her fellow friends and P.E.O. sisters at the train station, traveling to the International Convention in 1952
From left to right: Mary Hamilton, Eunice Hurst, and Esther Wise

It was strongly because of Erma’s involvement in P.E.O. that I, myself, wished to join the Sisterhood and serve as my chapter’s president. Knowing that I have nearly fulfilled the second portion of that dream would surely make her proud.

Faith was a cornerstone of Erma’s life. She was a longtime member of Beymer Methodist Church, which served as the site of her daughter, Eleanor’s, wedding in 1956. Just look at those clothes !

Eleanor, Bob, and Erma

Erma was a world traveler. And more extraordinarily, she was a world traveler when jetting off to far-flung destinations was not nearly as accessible as it is today. Sojourning with close friends and family, she made several trips across the United States and also visited exotic locales including Norway and Scandinavia, most of the European Continent and Britain, Australia and New Zealand, Brazil and South America, the Caribbean, and Canada. Her thoughtfulness was personified by the many presents she brought back to her loved ones.

Writing was also one of Erma’s passions, and in 1976 she saw her book “The Fabulous Orange” published. As a history of citrus cultivation, processing, and marketing, it is truly… “fabulous !”

While she was known as a beloved mother and a good friend to her friends, there was something else that Erma loved in addition to her friends and family that cannot be overlooked. She loved jewelry; all kinds, the real and the costume. Anything that sparkled tickled Erma’s fancy.

She may have adored jewels, but she never dressed in excess. Her style was quiet and tastefully done with just the right amount of accessories. Recently, I made a visit to the cemetery where Mina (the name all of the grandchildren called Erma) was laid to rest, modeling a dress from my mother’s closet that closely resembles the style my great-grandmother would have worn.

Despite all her remarkable accomplishments, Erma is probably best remembered by her kind and easy-natured spirit. She had an infectious laugh, loved a good joke, and was hospitable to a fault. Sadly, she passed away from an extended battle with Alzheimer’s before I ever knew her. However, through the stories and artifacts shared from various relatives, her memory remains alive. My hope is to perpetuate her legacy by the same tenets that guided her life. And just like Mina, having fun along the way is equally as important !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

Fringed Friends in Pamela’s Patterns

Scrolling through my daily e-mail from Fabric Mart Fabrics, I spotted something that grabbed my attention in addition to the day’s latest sales. A new class offering had been posted for Fringy Bias Skirts with Pamela Leggett using her favorite bias skirt pattern. So chic, so bohemian, so… unique ! I knew I had to sign up for the virtual class.

As per Pamela’s suggestion, the skirt was best suited for a softer linen fabric so that the strips of linen bias would “bloom” when washed. However, I had a resolution to use up some of my unfathomable fabric stash and unearthed a fawn colored linen, which I bought from a “Julie’s Picks” swatch mailer some years prior. It was crisp ─ not ideal ─ but it would have to work. And since my yardage was inadequate for the full length skirt, I was rendered one solution: to make the knee length version.

Soon before the first class session, my friend, Chris, had sent me an e-mail with an outrageously priced Nieman Marcus skirt that was fashionable, but beyond the point of reason to even consider making a purchase. “Who would pay that for a skirt ?!” she wailed. At that moment, I showed her the class example that I was going to make and she was hooked. Intuitively, Chris selected a soft linen/rayon blend in a bright navy for her midi length skirt. Her choice of fabric was perfect; after two washes, the blended material far “outfringed” mine that had been washed and dried close to 10 times. Mawhh-velous !

Custom fitted in our fringy bias skirts, we had fun during a photo shoot at Chris’s elegant home.

Interestingly, Pamela revealed during the first session of class that she got the idea for the fringed skirt from an old Soft Surroundings catalog and wanted to make a knock-off version for herself. I laughed as I had done the same procedure when I attempted to recreate a Soft Surroundings gown for one of the Met concerts.

The Fringy Bias Skirts episode was a win-win-win: Chris didn’t have to cancel her Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra subscription to pay for the skirt, I gained a new client, and we both ended up with two stylish and flattering skirts ! Thank you, Pamela !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

“The Sound of Music” Easter Dress

From the time I was a little girl, I have always loved “The Sound of Music.” Remembering my original encounter with the classic film in the first grade classroom conjures up the rapt attention I experienced as a wide-eyed seven-year-old. Understandably, there was a lot to adore─ the infectious sing-a-long tunes, the thrilling ending, those clever nuns…
Every year, I would catch the movie on TV during Easter. Once, while watching the movie on the aforementioned holiday, I had decided that I would eat my entire chocolate and jelly bean-filled Easter basket since I was aiming to start a healthy diet the next day and didn’t want the temptation of sugary confections. (Never again !!)
While the overdose of Almond Joys may have given me a stupendous stomachache, I can’t recall a single time where “The Sound of Music” didn’t sit well with my appetite.

“The Sound of Music” movie poster (1965)

Maria’s ability to make clothes out of curtains impressed and inspired me, long before I could sew myself. And so it should come as no surprise that the costumes in the movie were a highlight for me. From Liesl’s floaty chiffon frock to Baroness Schraeder’s luxe gold evening gown, the clothes only added to the film’s accolades.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who harbors an affinity for the movie’s costumes. For years, I have been an admirer of Katrina Holte’s Edelweiss Patterns. And yet, I had never sewn one of her “Sound of Music” replica patterns… until now ! While I was greatly torn between several options, I choose Maria’s Gazebo Dress as my first attempt at classic cinema fashion.

Julie Andrews in “The Sound of Music”

With its delicate chiffon overlay and pastel color, I imagined it as an ideal Easter dress. But out of which color to make it…? I always viewed the film dress as an aqua baby blue, but discovered upon research that it’s not blue; it’s green ! According to the auction site that sold the frock in 2012, the listing is described in part as a “Green dress with floral pattern, with butterfly sleeves and full skirt. Smocked at neck and waist, lined in light green silk, hook and eye and snap closure at back.” Who would have thought ?! Green it is !

I ignored the tone-on-tone floral pattern on the dress since I was not equipped (neither with time nor mental stamina) to begin another fabric painting project so soon after Zerbinetta’s harlequin. The monochromatic seafoam was enough for a pretty pastel Easter dress.

Details matter on solid dresses. The pattern called for honeycomb smocking, a stitch which I had never heard of nor attempted, but found it to be a fun and easy design addition. So much so, that my mind is now whirring over the decorative possibilities for using the stitch in the future.

Honeycomb smocking at the neckline

“The Sound of Music,” sewing, and Easter… “These are a few of my favorite things.”

Happy Easter !

Toi, Toi, Toi,

Mary Martha

This post is dedicated to Ian, whose role model for being a doting uncle to his nieces and nephews is Uncle Max from “The Sound of Music.”