Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Buttons for Big Grace

In this photo, my mom, Grace Higgins, is pictured with her sister, Rosalie, to the right. They are two very stylish young women, making due with limited means during the war. Note the flower in my mom's hair!

I have been vacationing in Narragansett, RI--right by the ocean. And while I was relaxing, I was organizing the buttons I have been working on all summer, making them into sets, picking out vibrant-colored embroidery thread and sewing them onto cards I had made with my mom's image on them. I am getting them ready for their 'debut' at the Peters Valley Craft Fair, taking place in September. Click here to get further information. I will be joining the New Jersey Potters Guild, along with Itsuko, Sandy and Susan.

These buttons were a summertime obsession. They are in honor of “Big Grace,” my mom, but never called that to her face – my petite sister is also called Grace.

My mom was brought up as a Bronx “princess.” She sewed all of her own clothes – dazzling outfits! One I found in the attic was a marine-blue bathrobe-styled coat with matching palazzo pants with a Hollywood waist (mom’s description). The shirt matched the lining of the coat – a bright red rayon printed all over with palm trees. I put this outfit on and felt like a bona-fide movie star! This was one of many, many outfits, some with matching hats.

All this glamour was left behind, regretfully, as my mom had six kids. She was widowed at a young age, 47, and had a bedridden mother in the living room. So the talent for sewing supported the family. The prospective brides, bridesmaids, mothers-of-the-bride, cocktail hostesses, cruise ship vacationers, and even nuns came in for fittings – she did all of the new, shortened habits for the local convent in the 1960’s.

As a child I was surrounded by the trappings of all this – beautiful tweeds, shimmering satins and silks, and buttons, buttons, buttons! There were the buttons covered with fabric that matched the outfits, the standard white shirt buttons, the fancy mother-of-pearl buttons, even ones with sequins and rhinestones!

We were able to play with the cookie tin filled with the odd buttons. These were boring sets, ones with no match, or ones not suitable for fine garments. But there were also those jars of real beauties, not to be touched.

When I was starting to work in clay, I asked Big Grace if I could borrow some buttons, to make stamps out of them. She resisted, out of habit, I think. But finally she relented and let me loose. I went carefully through the jars, looking for those unique patterns, collected from the many trips to the notion district in NYC – off 7th Avenue, just north of Macy’s.

I found a few choice ones and proceeded to make impressions in clay. To my horror most of them dissolved! Who knew what they were made of? But I was able to salvage a few and made some great stamps that I use to this day to impress my work in porcelain.

So my tribute to Big Grace is these buttons. There are 100 cards, with her image, of all varieties – colors, patterns and textures. The hardest part was stopping! But I had to control this obsession, and move on.

Now for new vases, inspired by my Aunt Rosalie....

Thanks to Itsuko for all your advice and help.


Anonymous said...

thanks so much for refering to me as the petite sister! I love your blog. It took me back to our childhood years. They sere so special and unique. the buttons are lovely and attached to the cards with those neat little bows. what a great display. i can't wait to see the vases.

Anonymous said...

Dear Ellen,
As another petite sister, I was amused by your memories. I love the buttons I have seen so far, and hope they are very popular with knitters and seamstresses for all over, not just the Bronx. Love Peggy