Tuesday, May 27, 2008

It’s All Their Fault Part 3: Hedy Lamarr

by Katy of muchacha K

This is part 3 in a series discussing our creative influences…

The way Great Aunt Cecile tells it, when she met my grandmother Irene, they all thought she looked “just like Hedy Lamarr” (or as she says “Hedy La-maaaaaa). But I knew my grandmother as a grandmother. Not quite like any other grandmother I ever met though. My early memories of her typically involve her, in a house coat, wooden spoon in one hand, Miller Lite in the other. Brisket in the oven, spaghetti with meatballs and sausage on the stove, and a bucket of clams about to exit this world under a blanket of steam. The path to her front door was paved with bits of shell from those same clams. Kittens lived under the porch. Loud opinions voiced between rooms, her and my grandfather competing to see who could mostly effectively drown out the squawk of the police scanner. They generally beat it to death with politics and baseball. The kitchen décor was a memorial to the 1940’s and when I was a small child, they still occasionally used an old fashioned woodstove in the kitchen (this was hardly normal in the 1980s). All of this was as impressive upon my creative self as the sewing skills I learned from grammy, but that’s another post for another time (and maybe another blog, lol).

My grandmother learned to sew because back in the 20’s and 30’s many girls did, and not through classes. She did remark once that as a child, she preferred to go to the day camp at the Methodist church, even though her family was Catholic, because the Methodists had way funner arts and crafts activities. Any Catholics or Methodists want to comment on this theory, feel free.

She made wonderful gifts for me. Handmade dolls and teddy bears; clothing. Clothing for the dolls and teddy bears too—every teddy bear needs at least a vest and bowtie. Her typical method was this: visualize the item to be made. Eyeball the person or doll to be dressed. Start cutting! She sometimes used patterns, but more often made her own. As a teenager, when I visited, I sometimes spent hours sitting and sewing under her guidance. I would think of a project and she’d helped me plan it out. She was very informal, yet very detailed. Patterns from newspapers or paper grocery bags. And whatever I made, no matter how imperfect, was absolutely perfect to her. Everyone should be so lucky, to have someone freely offer them the gift of that much confidence. And to this day that’s pretty much my sewing process. Who wants to cut out commercial patterns if you don’t have to—yech!

The two most important things I learned from Irene Tessier, aka Hedy Lamarr, about sewing:

1) YOUR IRON IS YOUR BEST FRIEND. Sorry for the caps, but it’s REALLY important. Iron before you start cutting, iron every single seam as you work, and iron when you are finished. Iron, iron, iron. It makes your work look finished and professional. It’s often the difference between work that does and doesn’t look finished.

2) Be fearless. There’s nothing you can’t make. It might not be perfect the first time, but by the 500th it will be.

Sidenote: just a few months ago, I went to her old house, where one of my cousins now lives, and went up to poke around in the attic. There isn’t much of hers left there anymore, but tucked in the furthest corner from the door, I found a big pink lamp that she and I had bought together at a garage sale. I’d seriously wondered, for years, where that lamp had gone so I picked it up to take it with me…and right next to it, I saw a book. The autobiography of Hedy Lamarr. So Hedy Lamarr and my grammy are my patron saints of sewing.


  1. I absolutely loved reading about your grammy. Your description of her in the kitchen is hilarious...worthy of its own short story! Isn't it great to have such warm, vivid memories? Love it!

  2. Thanks...yes, it is. Mum says that when she was a little girl she didn't know other mothers didn't cook with beer in hand ;)


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