Recently sighted during a multi-day downsizing of my mom's "sewing room" and it's contents were numerous unfinished projects from the recent past as well as from long ago. This is not an uncommon event in sewing and craft rooms everywhere and these projects are often wistfully, sometimes contritely, referred to as UFO's. (Un-Finished-Objects) And when I say from long ago, I mean a couple of the UFO's found were dresses still "in progress" from over 50 years ago!
Amongst the projects discovered were several unfinished quilt tops (re-claimed by my mom for finishing), several garments that had been cut out and found with the pattern tissue still pinned to the pieces and other garments in various stages of completion, with patterns completely missing and never to be seen again. Of course I want to know why? Why were these projects abandoned midstream? And not others? As my mother did complete countless projects for herself, for me, for my sister, for friends, family and our home over the years, I wanted to know why these particular projects didn't make the cut.
Turns out that is a good question, but one with no easy answers.
My mother learned to sew as a young girl, but didn't own her own sewing machine until after she joined the US Navy Nurse Corps in September 1956. She moved far from her Mid-western home, where she had gone to Nursing school and then worked as a nurse in private practice, in a hospital and in Public Health. She half-jokingly says she joined the Navy to "see the world", but it was primarily to expand her employment options, as she could not have afforded to move to a bigger city and get work in a higher paying situation on her own. She spoke to a recruiter at a nurses convention and decided along with 2 other nursing acquaintances to sign up. She completed 6 weeks indoctrination at St. Albans Naval Hospital in Queens, New York and then went on to Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Virginia to start her new career. It was there, in Portsmouth, that she bought her very own sewing machine, along with a cabinet! She lived in the Navy quarters there on the base, which she says were like dormitory rooms with shared baths down the hall. And there was my mother, with her sewing machine in it's cabinet, in her dorm room.
In November of 1958, she received her next orders, sending her, along with her sewing machine and her other possessions, to GITMO (or Guantanamo Bay, Cuba) where she was stationed at the US Naval Base in February of 1959. This is where the story of these 2 "vintage" projects (pictured above) begins, as well as where my father enters the picture. Because by November of that same year, 1959, my mother and father had met and gotten married! In Cuba! (But the dresses remained unfinished.)
I guess it was a busy year, as my mother now can't remember if she was sewing those dresses before she met my father or after they returned to Portsmouth Virginia. The patterns are copyrighted 1958 (blue dress) and 1959 (red dress), respectively so we're not really sure. They were both started, completely cut out and partially sewn, but never finished.
My mother also said that before she signed up with the Navy Nurse Corps, her former employer, Dr. Baldridge, had asked her why she didn't join the Army instead. She said she told him that she "looked better in blue". OK. Well then, I asked, why not the Air Force? She said she "didn't like to fly". Funny thing is she isn't a great swimmer either. But I'm not complaining, as she wouldn't have met my dad otherwise.
For now these UFO's are mine to contend with, along with 1 or 2 UFO's of my own. That they've managed to be moved from home to home, along with all of my moms sewing stuff at least 5 times over the past 50 or so years, as well as the fact that I love the fabrics is why I claimed them. I was simply compelled to save them. Should I finish them as they've been started? Meh, I'm not very excited about that idea. I want to transform them into something completely new and different, creating another story in the process. I'm open to suggestions!