Colorful Buttons

The Christmas Dress

Memories are funny. Some you recall almost daily. But other times an event or circumstance triggers a forgotten memory from childhood that you unpack with delight like a treasure trunk in an attic—like the time my sister made the Christmas dress for Mom.

I think she was nine years old. She had just taken her first year of sewing as a 4H project. Mom had taught her how to use the ancient and rugged old Pfaff sewing machine that my parents had purchased when Dad was stationed in Germany. Looking back, I realize that that ancient old machine was 12 years old that Christmas—fully twice my then age of six—so definitely ancient.

Anyway, my sister won a blue ribbon that first year. I think she made a pillowcase. And that was in July. So I was not surprised at all that by the time Christmas came, her skills had advanced enough to make Mom a Christmas dress.

She pulled me aside and told me her plan. Wow! A real dress! I was excited and more than a little in awe. It wasn’t a handprint in plaster or a school art project; my sister was going to sew a real grown-up dress!

I’m not sure how we got to the fabric store but I do remember the fabric she picked out. It was on sale for 79 cents a yard, which was good because we didn’t get a big allowance. The fabric had pretty stripes of gold, orange, green and white.

I thought the fabric would look pretty sideways, but my sister told me stripes were supposed to go up and down—I told you she was smart. And the buttons! She found some gold ones that matched the gold stripe in the dress. Not real gold— plastic— but shiny like real gold.

I don’t remember a lot of the details of the dress. I know it slipped over the head, kind of like a bigger version of the pillow case she made in 4H. I remember that it had a pointy collar and that the buttons were for decoration. Also, I recall that sewing the side part of the dress was hard for my sister. That sewing machine was kind of scary and I was impressed that my sister could keep the sewing lines as straight as she did; it puckered in a few spots but down low on the side and not very noticeably.

I can tell you this: it was super pretty and I was almost as excited as my sister was to see the look on my mom’s face when she opened it.

“What have you been working on?” My mom knew my sister was up to something but didn’t know what. “It’s a dress!” My sister looked so proud.

“She sewed the whole thing herself!” I blurted out. I had nothing to do with it of course but was trying to get some of the limelight.

And then the most important question: “When are you gonna wear it?”

Well I can tell you this—my mother did wear it. She wore it to the grocery store the next week, head erect, nodding at everyone. “My daughter made me this dress all by herself as a Christmas gift.” She made sure everyone knew it. My sister was standing next to her beaming with pride, as strangers and friends would comment on how pretty the dress was.

She only wore it that once. “It’s far too pretty and special to wear just any old time.” We were kind of disappointed, but could understand—you wouldn’t want to wear a dress like that out.

Christmas is a very special time of year, when memories can be dusted off and cherished like old Christmas decorations, lifted up and admired from the different perspectives we gain as we grow older. Like my memory of a little nine-year-old girl who made a dress for her mother for Christmas. And the loving mother who decided to wear it.