Beginning of my love affair with fashion.
My adventure with tailoring started at age thirteen when I discovered a length of denim in my mother’s cupboard. I had never seen a piece of fabric before. This was unusual as we were deep into the 1980s crisis and all stores were literally empty. There was nothing, no food, no basics, no bread for god’s sake; no goods of any kind in any stores. People however went to work and stood in front of empty white shelves waiting for the miracle of delivery that happened occasionally. People stood in lines for hours, sometimes days to get anything. The entire country was operating on ration food cards (issued from 1981 to 1989), food and other good’s monthly allowance stamps were assigned by the government. The only people who did not starve were people with families in villages and farmers. But enough of the grim reality of the dawn of polish socialism. In all of that grey sadness there were stores full of everything.
Pewex stores were catered for privileged citizens, who had happened to have dollars and other foreign currency. I am not sure exactly what other currency was accepted as I was a kid and I was not allowed inside that store. My parents were not exactly privileged as my father got into an accident just before the 1981 uprising and became an invalid before coal miners got their union bonuses. We had 17$ in our foreign saving account which was more than most. My uncle who was a tourist bus driver had over 100$ savings and he was considered rich. You can imagine how ridiculously poor we were. In spite of all circumstances my mother was a regional party chief of restaurants and overlooked food supplies distribution for restaurants. This got her access to meat, coffee, butter and other great product that she could shmoose on the black market for other products. I am not sure, but I think this is how she must of gotten the amazing
coupon of a couple yards of Wrangler, olive denim. I had my eyes on it for months. I had been dancing around it like a tiger did his prey. I had no idea how to approach it, as I had no training, neither in pattern, nor sewing. Neither had I a machine, nor ever seen anyone making anything but I was determined. I was literally obsessed. I couldn’t get the temptation out of my head. My mother often traveled to Istanbul via train, through Budapest. She would go to Arab open markets to get clothes that she could sell back home. This was a tiresome business but thrilling in a way, to her and her friends. Something to do in the grey monotony of communistic stagnation. I had been exposed to some colorful garments, hand painted denim, leather jackets, embroidered Turkish furs and other inexpensive but creative goods. Other than that we had some Russian fashion magazines that were copies of German Burda’s. I managed to acquire one of those. One afternoon when my parents were in a good mood I asked very casually if I can use that piece of fabric and my mother with a typical smirk of disbelief on her face said yes. I made sure my father was a witness to it.
I moved swiftly to the next step. I got my Russian Burda’s with a maze of graded patterns. I also discovered that both of my aunts who lived next door, my mother’s cousins, one from her mother’s side and one from her father’s side acquired simple Lucznik sewing machines. A miracle, part of the new coal miner’s privileges. I managed to convince one of them that I had proper sewing training and borrowed the machine. You should have seen me, tiny, 20 kilograms underweight (almost fifty pounds underweight for my age due to starvation) girl dragging this super heavy sewing machine. Real heavy steel machine made in gun Lucznik factory as a cover up. Only with the heaven’s help did I bring this piece of equipment home and installed it on my desk. Then I stared at it for hours trying to figure out how the hell it works. The funny thing was that I pushed bobbin thread from bottom up through the hole as I had no idea the needle will pull it up. My older cousin who I confided in, told me a couple tricks as I swore her to secrecy about my sewing ignorance.
I went back to my mother for the fabric, she was shocked and refused to give it to me. I went straight to my father and addressed his sense of justice. My mother had no choice but to honor her promise. It didn’t go smoothly though, it took long hours of crying and moaning, but it was all worth it. After all everyone was proud of the final result.
All that time I was cooking the design in my head. Going back and forth with details. Finally I decided to make a mid-thigh long jacket, with long set in sleeves. Now I know what I designed was a combination of a short trench coat and parka. It had sleeve tabs, hip cargo pockets with flaps, waist belt and storm flaps. It was a double breasted, out of Africa outfit. I was very fashionable and on point which I learned later in my late twenties. I saw the actual movie in my late twenties when western culture was available. Back to the jacket; I matched it with high waist shorts that had rolled cuffs, stabilized with outseam tabs – if I remember correctly; it had front cargo pockets and single front pleat. I was obviously channeling Yves Saint Laurent although oblivious to his existence. Most of all – Miraculously I managed to figure out sleeve patterns and front and back armholes from Russian graded maize and shrunk them down to the size of an 8-year-old’s body, my size at the time though I was 13 years of age. All seams were zigzagged to prevent from fraying and top stitched with ¼ single needle top stitch for décor effect. I remember the huge 1980s buttons I used to make it stand out. If only I knew what happened to it. I wore it until college, then it got lost in so many moving adventures throughout the 90s.
This was just the beginning of my passion, my life obsession with the craft and evolving skills. I don’t think I will ever stop learning. I have attended apprenticeships with local tailors, I worked for huge couture houses and in Los Angeles I worked for denim designers. There is nothing I would refuse to learn. My first and biggest love will always be true, old fashioned tailoring and couture.