Granny Fran’s Fiscars
The talented seamstresses in my ancestral line inspire me to tackle challenging sewing projects and craft with purpose.
A few weeks ago I finished my husband’s surgical cap with its hand embroidered LA Dodgers Logo on the front. I made the ambitious decision to construct the cap while my 10 month old daughter was still awake. She was crawling around while I sat working at my sewing machine. The pum pum pum of the needle going through the fabric piqued her curiosity and, despite her ability to speak, I understood she wanted a vantage point from my lap. A part of me just wanted to hurry up and finish it, but I subdued the urge to try and distract her with a toy picked her up.
We both had enough space for me to continue my work as she sat between my arms. Her big brown eyes, the ones that look so much like mine, were glued on my fingers pushing the fabric into the machine. It was so funny how she didn't even try to grab anything, she was in observation mode! After making my back stitches, I used my small, orange-handled Fiscars to trim off the threads.
These scissors are inscribed with FR in red nail polish on one of the handles. When I was just old enough to remember, we visited my Great Grandma Fran Robertson and Grandpa Robertson in Texas. Grandpa died not long after. I saw Granny Fran more often when she visited us here in Utah. She did a lot of sewing in her day. Her daughter, my Grandma Lori, told me back then, fabric, patterns, and zippers were so much cheaper, so it made economical sense to make your own clothes. Granny did a lot of that, and did it well. “She finished her seams so well that you could wear the garments she made inside out and it would still look great,” said Grandma Lori.
Granny used to give me sweet kisses pressed on my forehead. When I knew her, she had long beautiful white hair, but I was oblivious to it because she always concealed it under a fluffy short wig. It wasn’t until she chose to be baptized in 2007 when I saw it intricately braided as a crown around her head.
After Granny Fran died, my mother and my maternal Grandma Lori spent weeks putting her belongings in order at her home in Texas. It took quite some time to go through all her sewing supplies. I’m sure Granny Fran used those little orange Fiscars often. When I inherited them, they were as sharp as sharp could be, from the depth of its jaw, to the point of its tip. They are perfect for intricate finishing work for all my sewing projects. I feel like she is right there beside me when I’m absorbed in my sewing.
A passion for sewing clothing has touched each generation in our maternal line. My mom made her own wedding dress and she recollected, “Granny told me to worry about the dress and tell her what I wanted for the train.” The train had three heart windows with rose lace. “She totally exceeded my expectations,” my mom said. Granny had to fly to Utah for the wedding so she made the train in a few days and left making her own dress until the night before. “She was up for the half the night, or maybe the whole night, making her own dress,” my mom said.
Granny taught Grandma Lori, Grandma Lori taught my mom, my mom taught me, and it seems I am seeing the first light at the dawn of teaching my daughter Ila. After talking with my Grandma Lori, I learned she still has the sewing machine where Granny taught her how to sew. Grandma Lori told me, “There was a song your mom loved called ‘Little Purple Pansies’. Back then it was really popular to sew on appliqués. I made a purple and white checkered dress for her but I couldn’t find any purple pansies so I added a purple plum to the front and center of the dress. Your mom loved it, although I’m sure it would certainly not be in fashion today,” she said with a laugh. She made a lot of dresses for my mom and each of her six children. For a time she made a fresh pair of Hawaiian jam shorts for my uncle Matt 10 days in a row. She loved the ego boost she got while admiring her cute kids wearing something she made.
My mom made clothing for me too, but this was during the time when it started to become more expensive to make clothing than buy it. However, the things she did make have more sentimental value than what money or time can buy. She made a jacket for the toddler version of me out of fleece designed with the flashy and contrasting colors of the 90’s. It was a jacket, despite the date, I wish I still had for my daughter to grow into. Alas, it likely was passed on as a hand-me-down to some lucky cousin of mine. I recently went through a box of extra fabric and found the remaining scraps for the jacket. As I hold them, I can still smell what it felt like to run across the warming wood chips at the Riverdale park after a rain storm while wearing it.
She also made an adorable faux fur poncho for me which is hanging in my daughter’s closet waiting for her. I remember there were few things in our home growing up that were more off limits than my mom’s scissors. The way her fabric shears zwwwiiped against each other as they sliced through fabric seemed to proclaim their distain for paper. My mom used them regularly to make clothing.
One of the more impressive projects under my mom’s belt is her poofy-sleeved 80’s wedding dress. She also made the dresses for her bridesmaids. Her hand-made dresses for her high school dances eventually made their way to my dress-up box. My favorite was the tea length dress with black lace long sleeves and a silky royal blue layer under the core of the dress, everything trimmed with blue sequins. No doubt this dress was a part of an ensemble of fluffy hair and blue eyeshadow. (On a side note, I wrote this last sentence before I found this picture below. Who would've thought I was right!?) I also loved the one she made that was reminiscent of Sleeping Beauty’s pink dress. All these dresses were far too big for me when I was most interested in them, but that didn’t matter much
My admiration for those dresses and her penchant for sewing led me to partially design and make my own dress for Junior Prom, with plenty of her help of course. I was gifted a clothing stencil set to design clothing for paper dolls. It was so fun imagining the fantastic dresses I could create in paper form and it was so much better when it turned into something I could actually wear.
Attending college in Hawaii and spending so much time swimming and surfing in the Pacific got me thinking about swimwear. Rose Marie Reid was the 1940’s designer who took frumpy and flabby swimwear and transformed it into something flattering and fashionable. The museum at BYU Provo had a collection of her work on display and I remember learning that her goal was for women to feel as beautiful and confident in a swimsuit as they would wearing an evening gown. You can see how the shift in interest happened for me.
Since then, I have pursued my interest in designing and sewing swimsuits. Buying a Fiscars rotary cutter and mat was the first step in this journey. The learning curve to get the hang of it was extensive, and figuring out how to plan for negative ease with stretchy fabric is a milestone I think deserves to be on my resume, although I don’t sew for a living. If I can sew swimwear, I can sew anything. I doubt my Granny Fran ever made swimsuits, so I’m excited to contribute to her vast sewing expertise if we ever sew together in the next life.
My sketch book has a pretty good collection of swimsuit designs. When my sister-in-law asked me to make a swimsuit for my teenage niece, it was so fun to hand her the book and tell her to pick out what she wanted. At that point I was fully confident I could make it. And I did! Around the same time, I was pregnant with my daughter and anticipating her arrival, I designed and made a little baby swimsuit for her. You better believe when I showed my husband I talked about how cute it was in a high pitched adoring tone. He probably rolled his eyes, but I was excited to be a mom ok?! Imagining our first little girl in an adorable red and navy swimsuit, complete with a bow on the back, how can’t you be excited about that? I totally understand the ego trip Grandma Lori got from seeing her kids in her hand-made clothing.
Although I can feel I’m almost due for another swimsuit for both of us, I feel the dress-making desire calling again. When I went through my mom’s box of extra fabric, I found the material she used to make curtains for the sliding glass door to the backyard of my childhood home. It has a pattern of thin stripes of eggshell white and rustic nautical navy on a heavier weight linen fabric. In my mind’s eye, I can already see the matching dresses for my daughter and I, embroidered with the local wildflowers of Utah. Yes, I think Granny’s Fiscars will be responsible for all the final snipping to give them a Granny Fran-worthy finish.
After realizing how much Granny’s scissors mean to me, I want to pass on a pair of my own scissors to each of my daughters. If she chooses to perpetuate our tradition of finding joy through sewing, I want her to understand the weight of support her ancestors have as she creates. As I’ve reflected on this, I realized I want to keep my lap available for Ila to observe when I sew, even if it draws the project out a little longer. I think my choice to allow her interest to blossom will be worth the very small sacrifice of time.