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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 7, 2015

White out

Other women who grew up on the Canadian prairies can back me up here on what I am about to write about now.

Out west, where I was born, cabin fever is real. 

I grew up with the stories. Of war brides who found themselves deposited in, say February, on the prairies who lost their minds. Of folks who opened the door one day and saw it was so white, snow and sky, so they could no longer see a horizon, so they started walking. And that was that.

There was a town near where I grew up where the farmers would occasionally go into the barn and hang themselves in the winter. The town was actually sort of famous for it. No one blamed them, how could they? To be fair this was before the farmers all built curling rinks and started going to Arizona after Christmas. Things got better after that.

These stories should give you a sense of my current state of mind. 

And I'm tough. My grandfather followed sled dogs and my grandmother snow shoed her way around the banks of the river in Winnipeg. We knew how to do this in my family.

However we had three snow days this week for the school kids, and the snow bank across the street is nearly as high as my neighbour's roof.

I am pretty much ready to pick up Daisy and the husband and get myself to Florida. In fact I have my bags all packed and we are not leaving for three weeks. 

I need to get out of this particular cabin. I have been socking on the weight like a bear in hibernation. I have been lying in my bed at night and thinking about good fabric and how I need some. 

Remember when department stores had fabric departments? 

I remember when Eaton's in Canada had sand-washed silk on bolts and their own brand of baby yarn. I remember working in Melbourne Australia and how the fabric floors at Myer's and Buckley and Nunn's kept me going at lunch times from work. You used to go up the escalator at Buckley's and, was it the fifth or seventh floor, it was all fabric. 

Swiss cotton and Viyella by the table like it was a normal thing.

I lie in my bed surrounded by snow drifts outside and think I need to be in a place like that again.

Why didn't I stock up? Why didn't I know that those good fabric departments, would be replaced by racks of dark polyester dresses manned by sales people who were just passing time? 

Department stores used to be something. I remember my grandmother, the snowshoeing one, say she had a friend who was a "career woman". She was "in coats, at Eaton's." A very good job my grandmother said. That was before the Eaton boys drank away the fortune and you went downtown to shop instead of out of town.

As you can see I am one step away from the back door and starting walking.

I am pretty sure I am a hot weather girl at a cold weather address.

That will change soon.

I am going to have an afternoon in the garment district on the way down to Florida the end of the month. My husband is dropping me off in New Jersey at the side of the road and I am taking the train into Penn Station and going to start shopping.

I have a lot of dress sewing to be done for this wedding. The flower girls and my daughter and my son's girlfriend and later for me. I love my youngest son's girlfriend too. She is really beautiful but has not been exposed to good fabrics like I think a young woman should. I want to make her some good dresses, dresses where the lining is silk. That stuff makes a difference to how you feel about yourself and to what you feel is possible in life. I really believe that.

I will probably spend the afternoon collecting swatches and go over everything with my other son's fiancee at dinner and then call in orders. 

I have actually bought some machines, a vintage Bernina and a Pfaff serger to be there in Florida when I arrive, and to stay there between visits.

I am wrapping up my sewing here. 

I made three more pairs of those Lucinda pants and some bamboo T shirts so I won't be sitting there sewing naked. Since they are all packed I won't show it all to you except for this one shot, nothing to write home, about but comfortable and purpose built:

This is my February face.

I also made up a gore skirt from Stylearc, using an Etsy pattern, this one:

The girl in the drawing had obviously not be hibernating, or had a husband who appears to be opening a bakery in the kitchen, but here it is on me:

Blouse is an oop top in silk georgette I thought I would never wear again but it goes with this skirt.

I really like this pattern, a nice basic skirt in ponte, and one I am going to make many times again. I can't believe they are letting me wear skirts again that look like the ones I wore when I was in university.

Well off I go to mark more assignments and break that up with online fabric snooping. Soon I am going south.


Graca said...

Canadian Prairie gal here who has your back on the cabin fever story and currently procrastinating about all the snow outside that I should be shovelling. ~sigh~ I miss Eatons too. And shopping at places that carry natural fibres. Wishing you a wonderful break from the snow and fruitful fabric shopping!

Deb Cameron said...

Great post! Hold on, it's only three weeks and you'll be in sunny Florida. I live is Brisbane Australia and think it's cold when it gets below 10 degrees, I'm lucky I realise. I can't even begin to imagin what -30 is like and being stuck inside!!! Thanks for the virtual visuals. Enjoy your shopping in the garment district!

bbarna said...

Well, I can relate. I woke up this morning to rain, but it was -7C on the thermometer. I remember thinking "well that can't be good", and then the Weather channel announced a freezing rain warning. We just finished cleaning up the huge dump of snow from our driveway and now it looks like a skating rink. I made some coffee, went up to the sewing room and went to working finishing my grey fleece vest that I started last winter. At least I will get my UFO's done. I am looking forward to spring in a big way...Happy travels. Barb from Pr. George...

daiyami said...

Been reading for a while, first-time commenter. I really like this post, so I just tweeted it to spread it. Also, your flypaper thoughts? You might like twitter.

Barbara said...

Daiyami you may have a point about twitter. I always thought there wasn't enough room for complete thoughts, but you are right, I don't have many of those. Stay tuned.

Janet said...

How about Toronto girl moving to small town Saskatchewan only to have her first child during the coldest winter in 80 years?....yup, that was me, 19 years ago. Where has all the nice fabric gone? I was just thinking about how nice a Viyella fabric would be to sew!

Anonymous said...

I remember Eaton's, and out here in Vancouver, we had Woodward's as well, which had a great fabric department! I miss both...

Pearl in Vancouver

Robin said...

I would laugh but I know you are serious. I live in a small Ohio town on Lake Erie and I know about snow. Sounds like you're a woman on a mission. Have fun shopping, sewing, and stashing. More importantly, enjoy the warmer weather in Florida.

Anonymous said...

Enjoy your trip and fabric hunting.
I remember the Myer store in Melb. Oz. In those days that was the place to get your fabric.No Spotty in sight.
Ria in Melb. Oz.

Bunny said...

Having hit twenty below numerous times in the past month, I feel your pain. And the snow just won't stop either! I am so tired of the pile of boots at the back door and the salt stains I constantly have to mop up. You know what I mean, I know. I can think of no better way to end the insanity than a trip to NY for fabric. Have fun!

David Page Coffin said...

Great post, thanks! So, they took away all the good local fabric sources and great department stores...but gave us the Internet. Soon we won't even need bodies!

Anonymous said...

I feel your pain! At this point I'd like to be able to walk my dog without fear of the snowplough collecting us both! On the other hand, having grown up below the equator I can attest to endless overheated summer days of high-humidity and scorching sun... same deal! For both zones, a fabric desert is real... Love that black outfit!

Anonymous said...

I also feel your pain. At least we get Chinooks in Alberta but you can get pretty grouchy if they forget to come.

I think we all miss Eatons but I discovered a small local fabric store the other day. Mostly quilting fabrics but some other good stuff. Very small but the owner even climbed up on a ladder to find something for me. Made my day. Wel actually the whole week.
Hang in there,

Fashionista said...

My mother bought her wedding dress lace from Myer in Brisbane (Aust). It was considered one of THE places for fabric in 1965.

Last year I bought a piece of fabric at a Trash and Treasure simply because it had the original pre-1966 Myer fabric department ticket on it (the price was in pounds that's how I dated it).

Hope the cabin fever subsides. Enjoy the Garment District.

Anonymous said...

I like what I see.
So happy to find your blog. ). Tropical rains use to get me down. I read a lot, play in the rain gutters and pretend I was crazy.
Florida is a great antidote. Yes, I too remember the days of stores full of luxurious fabrics... In another Country.
For me sewing is therapy. Quality fabrics is another story. Living in Hawaii I do get hawaiian print overload. Have fun shopping for fabrics.
Mahalo for sharing

Carmen Bouchard said...

As a former resident of Baie-Comeau Qu├ębec, I know what you are going through and I wish you a very nice trip south.

Kathleen said...

Hi Barb - Tues. night is the annual fabric sale at ASG. Why not pop by to have a gander - surely can't be worse than the nasty polys & poly mixes down the hill. Worth a shot - & always fun to have a cuppa with the like-minded! It would be good to see you. ...I'm wondering where to put the upcoming week of snow we're forecast,as I barely reach the top of my driveway snowbanks now - with a little hop & heave. Happy Nova Scotia! Kathleen

Barbara said...

I would love to come Kathleen but I am teaching a class at Patch that night, too bad.

Vicki said...

That took me back. I used to work in Collins Street and would walk in my lunch time to Myer to the fabric department. And Cleggs when it was in Little Collins Street.

Barbara said...

Oh Vicki of course Cleggs on Little Collins, how could I forget them? On my lunch time route too. I wonder if you and I ever passed each other?

Laceflower said...

OK, I'm really going to rub it in; I'm in the REAL west, BC, and I have just been out to the garden to collect herbs for my roast chicken tonight. Now I'm a hermit type personality, so this is the first time I've been out in a week, if you call that 1.5 minute outing, being out! I can sympathize with the despair of living with all that white outside and being shut in, which is why I fled Ontario winters for balmy Victoria and the dull rain.
Wishing you pleasant dreams of fabric and actual NYC shopping.
Ah, le sigh, remembering actual fabric stores that weren't full of quilting cottons.

Sandra Kay Daniels said...

I notice you try a lot of patterns and I have wondered if you ever make your own. Do you use a basic sloper fitted to you to analyze the fit before you cut? I also love the skirt.

Nothy Lane said...

I love your black polka-dot blouse. And I remember Eatons but not the bolts of fabric - of the glory days, I would even put up with the cranky, snooty salespeople at Eatons again if I could get some great fabric at the mall.

Anonymous said...

You have Winnipeg roots! No wonder you are so likable. Eaton's had the best fabric department in the downtown Winnipeg store. I miss both deeply and still have several pieces I bought as a student at U of W in the late 80's. Enjoy the Florida sunshine.