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I am a mother, a new grandmother, and a teacher. But whatever happens in my life, I keep sewing. I have worked as a political communicator and now as a teacher in my formal life. I have also written extensively on sewing. I have been a frequent contributor and contributing editor of Threads magazine and the Australian magazine Dressmaking with Stitches. My first book Sew.. the garment-making book of knowledge will be published in May 2018 and is available for pre-order from Amazon


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Saturday, February 11, 2012

The tenement museum

One of the most affecting things we did in New York was visit the Tenement Museum, a walking tour of a tenement, organized by my smart son.

Really if you are in NYC you have to do this.

From the sewing point of view it was interesting to see how the garment workers managed, and the conditions in which the earlier home-based piece workers lived and worked.

Absolutely unbelievable.

What has stuck with me most though is a story about Fanny Rosenthal. Fanny lived in one two room apartment (toilet down the hall) with her husband and five children. Her husband died young from TB (he was a garment presser) and she stayed on there after the kids had grown and gone.

Over time the building owner decided that to bring the building up to code was going to be too expensive, and he asked all the tenants to move out.

Fanny refused. Refused to leave the place she had first lived in when she arrived in America, raised her family, lost her husband. 

In the end the building owner upgraded her apartment only and she lived on there in one apartment surrounded by every other apartment vacant in the building alone for 14 years.

This story really got to me. For a start as a social person I find the thought of living alone in a vacant building for all that time horrifying. Just imagine that. At the same time I also understood her. 

I understood that when Fanny looked out her window she wasn't seeing the street as it was, but she could still see her own children playing out there, her husband coming home from work. Those were her best years and she didn't want to walk out of that apartment and close that particular, precious, door behind her.

At the same time I heard that her kids eventually forced her to move, they still lived in New York, in other places where they had moved on. It made me wonder what Fanny missed in those 14 years. What listening could she have done to her complicated adult children, new times she could have shared, grandchildren maybe playing on other streets.

It made me think of sewing, and of grainline. You know how sometimes when something doesn't hang right? Often it's because the grain is off, the pattern piece is not parallel to the selvage like it's supposed to be?

What do you do? You can't change the arrow on the pattern piece, can you. If that's your direction of grain that's your direction of grain. But you know what you can do? Rearrange the pattern piece on the fabric, move it a little bit. Sometimes you just have to do it.

Then it works.


Mary said...

Barbara, This post made me stop and take a breath...and think of my own "grainline". Thank you,

a little sewing said...

good food for thought ...
And that museum looks absolutely fascinating.
We went to the Textile Museum in DC today and that was a treat, though very different.

annie said...

I too visited that museum. It was a moving experience although all my grandparents emigrated from Ireland and went to Brooklyn straightaway. I recently stayed in a B&B in NYC that was a converted tenement. Couldn't help remembering the feet that had trod those steps. Thanks for good memories.