We’d like to thank Mary Howley for her submission “The Seamstress”, a true story about her mother Doris, who passed away in December last year at 91 years of age. Mary tells us “She died believing that she had lived a very ordinary life.”
Mary saw things very differently. Whilst she saw her Mother’s main achievements as being a loving wife to her husband Frank and a devoted mother to her four children, it’s what she taught her children that was her true legacy. “I wrote this story as an ode to her extraordinary talent as a seamstress, having established a successful small business, instilling in all of her children that believing in yourself will bring you success and happiness.”
Mary herself is a mother of three children. “I have juggled being a mum with many varied careers. In my downtime, I have written fiction and non-fiction stories and have had a few of them published in lifestyle magazines.” She has recently written a crime fiction novel which she hopes to get published and will be graduating from an Associate Degree in Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT University in Melbourne at the end of this year.
You can read more of Mary’s work on her newly launched site maryhowley.com
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The seamstress sits in her scarlet velour armchair, notepad on her lap, her attention focussed on the potential bride sitting opposite to her. With a pencil in her hand, her nimble fingers sketch the dream gown, onto her dog-eared notepad, with rapid dexterity. Tape measure in hand, she measures, calculates, and records the amount of fabric needed.
Weeks later, a shapeless piece of white fabric lies on the kitchen table, like a patient waiting for the scalpel. Black vinyl records spin on the turntable; Dean Martin sings a jaunty Volare and Cilla Black blares You’re My World. And so, the operation begins. Dressmaker scissors in her right hand, while her left-hand holds the fabric flat on the kitchen table, sewing pins threaded into her apron, her waves of black hair tied away from her face, the seamstress begins performing her magic.
After a day at school, I sit cross-legged under the table, watching scraps of material cascade to the floor. My small starfish-like hands scavenge for the scraps on the floor – pinning the ghostly remnants into dresses for my Barbie doll. Inhaling the smells of the various textiles; my senses are heightened. Some fabrics have a sharp and nauseating chemical odour while others have gentle hints of lavender and mothballs.
As I chat to her about my day at school, the seamstress halts her craft, listening to me with tenderness in her eyes. Eventually, she asks for quiet — she needs to concentrate in order to conduct her symphony of artistry. Swathes of fabric that resemble jigsaw pieces, will be sewn into a much-loved wedding gown. With one foot on the pedal of her black Singer sewing machine, the contraption whirrs, breathing life into the drapery. The needle threads into the stiff netting of tulle, the web-like threads of lace, the sheen of satin, and the sheerness of chiffon. Pieces of cloth are fashioned into wonderous garments.
When the fabric is finally constructed into a wedding gown, sequins and buttons sewn, the prospective brides are summoned for their final fitting as their wedding day draws near. Giddy with excitement they walk on clouds, carrying the wedding gown that signifies a bold move into a new chapter in their lives. After their wedding and honeymoon, the brides return, to bring the seamstress bonbonniere of sugar-coated almonds and to show her photos of their special day.
The neighbours are in awe of this woman who migrated to this country from Malta in her early twenties. Boarding a passenger ship on her own, with her Singer sewing machine and a Grandmother clock that chimed every hour, she came to Australia with not a word of English – only pockets of hope and a heart of burning ambition.
That was long ago – the seamstress has grown old. The brilliant mind that breathed life into fabrics, wanders from one branch of thought to another, her rambling words make no sense. Her thin hair is snow-white, her eyes have dimmed, and her fingers are bent like tree roots – the same fingers that decades ago were straight and strong, deftly sewing perfect stitches into hems and seams.
In a hospital room, I watch her taking her last laboured breaths, steepling her fingers with my fingers. My tears flow, and yet I smile — remembering a time way back when brides treaded the path to our door – a time when my mother was hailed as the amazing seamstress.
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