Handmade clothes

Submitted by lmcshane on Sun, 03/30/2008 - 10:56.
Grandfather with kids.jpg

I remember the attention I received for wearing clothing hand-made by my grandmother.  Do kids today wear hand-made clothes?

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Free Babysitting

When I was growing up, we had a neighborhood mom, who let us do anything--Mrs. Caruso.  God bless her. 

We destroyed her basement with our fantasy restaurants, where we would invite the neighborhood kids to enjoy delicious fried baloney sandwiches (!).  We would concoct secret beauty potions, blow up balloons to supplement our undeveloped chests, and go door-to-door to sell the magic as "Avon ladies calling!" Actually, I won't admit to this stunt...that was the "artist" of the family.  I wanted to be a spy, so the Caruso family entertained that fantasy of mine, by (pretending) not to know--did they know?--that I would crawl through their basement window with my girlfriend Susie and spy on the eldest Caruso boy, Jay.  Actually, we spied on everyone and took notes, while sitting in their levered closets (the kind with the slotted doors). 

We played with their pots, their pans, their toys (better toys than the McShane family, by far), and their tools.  Mr. Caruso and Mrs. Caruso fed us and fed us well.  To this day, I remember pasta fagioli from Mr. Caruso.  And, when my grandfather died in our backyard, the Caruso family, whisked us kids away, so my mom and dad could deal with the sadness. 

They took us to a beautiful, sunny pool at the country club (yes, Rocky River had the Westlake country club--where the Caruso boys worked as caddies).  And, the problems of the world did not affect us kids.  Thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Caruso.

In tribute

  So in tribute to the neighbors who put up with me as a child, let me make this offer.  I will entertain your kids.  I will bake cookies.  There is a beautiful century home behind my house and it is for sale.  The house has a double-lot, perfect for a huge, huge garden (fresh tomatoes, please!) and a swing set.  I need to replace the back fence.  I want a picturesque gate between the yards.  Consider the location.  Where else could you find a three-story house, with oak floors, fireplace, convenience to every thing (including good schools)?

A house with great neighbors. 

picking out patterns and fabrics


When I was growing up, my Mom had clothes made for me. Even just before she died in 1994 she had two flannel nightgowns made for me. I still wear them.

My mother's family is from Georgia and the small town they lived near was a mill town. The acres and acres of cotton surrounding the town were turned into towels, calico, velveteen, socks and many other textiles. When we visited my grandmother, we often went to the fabric store and I would pick out fabric and patterns. Then my Mom would hire a seamstress to make the clothes. I still have many of the dresses that were made for her and some that were made for me.

Because my parents lived in Japan when I was born (my Dad was stationed there in the air force), my Mom had some really exquisite clothes made for her. She continued this practice of hiring seamstresses to make her clothes when she returned to the states.

In the small town where I grew up in Florida, there was one shop with readymade clothes for many years (before we got a Sears and JC Penney’s). Clothes shopping was a very special Saturday occasion. The shop had a three way mirror flanked by dressing rooms on either side. There was a semi-circular couch where my Mom would sit and watch me try on dresses. I did not initially wade through racks of clothes. We came in, were greeted by the shopkeeper and offered Coca-Cola in those green glass 6oz bottles. We sat and chatted with other store personnel and the shopkeeper brought clothes for me to try on. We were treated like "ladies" so these occasions were always special and few and far between as well. To this day I will remember buying clothes as an extraordinary event. There would be a big decision and the dresses would be worn with pride. There was value in the threads. I can recall my mother inspecting seams (wary of something readymade). Sometimes she would show me where a dress would not wear well because a seam had not been finished appropriately. I still inspect linens and clothes the same way.

Now kids have a homogenous array of options at low-end and high-end shops. They can look like this or that designer. Back then we crafted our own looks and it was a big deal a substantial expense and it was special. Clothes have largely lost their allure for me these days. I stick with a more casual comfortable uniform for my daily wear. But when the occasion calls for it, I have a closet full of vintage options that tell stories of a bygone era when clothes were special.

If you want to experience what I described above as "dress shopping", I recommend Mary at Gems Department Store. It was on Euclid Ave for years, and I heard that she was moving. I'll try to find out where she is now, because Mary is a real shopkeeper - she will know your size, offer you a cup of tea, make you feel welcome and remember you every time you visit the store.

Clothes with a story

Thanks for sharing this story Susan.  I hope other readers will be able to share their memories, too.  One of our regulars at the library dreams in fabric.  She is smart and shy.  Her mom is a seamstress from Puerto Rico.  I hope that Gladys gets the chance to express herself in fabric.  She has a hard time with words, but her smile will make you melt.

As I read these post, I

As I read these post, I notice that they are a little old but of interest to me any way.  My family is from the Virginia hills.  Now, let me tell you about homemade clothes.  You ever hear of feed-sack or flour sack dresses - well, I wore quite a few of those.  Back then, the flour and live stock feed came in these floral fabric sacks - and our clothes were made out of them. 

Down in the hills, all the females learned to sew - it was just second nature - you learned to patch, make clothes, quilts, etc., but for some, it was more than a chore, it was a passion - and that is what it was for me and still is.

The first thing I remember trying to make  was something I called a hat and pocketbook.  I was about 4-5 and I crawled behind the couch and cut my moms curtains (plastic -big red ugly flowers) off and tried to be creative with a needle and thread - never mind the wonderful cropped up mess I made of the curtain edge - anyway, I kept them hid until Sunday morning and when I was sent off to Sunday school I sneaked them off and wore them as proudly as a peacock.  My love of sewing has only grown and I even make my son's boxer shorts - and have for many years - he loves them.  Once I went to Arizona by bus - I took my sewing machine right along with me.  I keep an on the go bag of quilt pieces to take any time I travel.   My granddaughter loves the clothes I make for her - I make her doll clothes to match. 

I can't go in a store without buying yards of fabric.  I have stacks....and stacks...and stacks of fabric.  I will even buy small odds and ends pieces and add them to my stash.  Sewing for me is therapy, relieves stress and I can create just about anything I want.  I can make one of a kind things that no one else will be wearing but the one I made them for. 

Once when I was about 14 I ran a sewing machine needle through my finger nail and my mom had to take a pair of pliers and pull it out.  Now, I'm teaching my 5 year old granddaughter to sew - I just give her some fabric, scissors, a little basket and let her go - she thinks it's the greatest. 

Tremont SEWS

  Thank you for the beautiful recollection Jerleen.  Do you know Fay? We need to tap into these made-by-hand skills, now more than ever.

You ladies (and even some guys) hold the world together :)

(One of the great things about RealNEO is discovering older posts...sorry for the delay here).


 I'm glad you liked it.  No, I don't know Fay.

Just a few weeks ago, I went up to 806 Wine bar on Literary and took a picture of the artwork on the building - with the girl sitting on the stairs - cropped it really nice - and transferred it to fabric, used some blue and white satin and made a pillow that turned out great.  I sent it to the owner of 806. 

Since sewing is one of my most loved past times, I often laugh at myself.  Three or four years ago I made my sister a crazy quilt from fabric scraps (since I refuse to throw away even the smallest piece).  As I started to put the little pieces together a theme began to evolve-  all through the quilt I made sure there were tiny little pieces of Indians, Browns, tweety, bugs bunny, poo, etc.  material (fabric of this era).   

Question I ask myself is , why do we buy big pieces of fabric sit for hours, cut it up into tiny little pieces and then sit for more hours and piece it back together again?  Boggles the mind.  I don't know if I'll ever find the answer, I think I'll quit asking, but it's one of the most satisfying. enjoyable things I've ever done. 

I wish women still had quilting bees, or sewing circles, etc.  They are lots of fun.

Gems resurfaces downtown

Gems Boutique

Where: Colonial Marketplace, 530 Euclid Ave. (runs between Euclid and Prospect), Suite 8.
Hours: 10:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. weekdays.
Contact: 216-621-5657.

Gems Boutique hopped from Euclid Avenue to the Colonial Arcade downtown, while Class Act Resale skipped from Madison Avenue in Lakewood to Cleveland's Little Italy neighborhood.

For 25 years, Gems was a favorite stop on Euclid Avenue for vintage shoppers. The tiny storefront, across from Cleveland State University, was a favorite of students and others who considered it a shopping destination.

Gems owner Mary Gabriel says her former building is being converted to loft space, so she began looking for a new space in February.

Gabriel is thrilled by her new location, with its walls that she painted "spring violet." The vintage items dovetail perfectly with the ambience of the arcade, built in 1898. She's especially jazzed about the bayed windows, all the better to show off her wares.

"I like everything about it -- great light, lots of traffic, great neighbors," she says. "It's a different configuration of space, but we have the things we've always had -- vintage and resale clothes as well as some home decor items and some books."

I'm going to see if I can get down there today to say hello and check out the new space. Phew! I wasn't too worried though that mary gabriel would choose a sunburban location. She's held down that block on Euclid since I can remember. The store is a treat. Don't plan to just stop in. Plan to stay awhile. Bring cash or a checkbook.

GEMS ++++

  I second your review Susan and with any luck, the folks at Positively Cleveland will put it on the map for visitors to downtown Cleveland.
Really, Susan--you and I, CB, and Cleveland Foodie, should write the Not for Tourists Cleveland experience...with all of our free time, you know :)  Norm, Jeff, Bill, Sudhir could write the Cleveland for guys trip planner...I don't want to get all gendery.  I am always getting myself in trouble for "not understanding."  And, this is for my sister--I can't be everything to everyone, but I will try.

Not for Tourists Cleveland experience


This is my idea for a realneo marketplace. More that we might post and feature stories about the places that make NEO real. It has already happened here, but it would be another section of realneo - a guide to the unique places that exist here - the ones that are not in other cities. It would be a real positively Cleveland.

I'd include Gems and Mitchells and Phoenix and Corbos and a new wonderful restaurant we just discovered - Felice on Larchmere and Thriftique and Mekong River and Mint Cafe. We'd have Big Fun and some of the new entreprenuerial clothing stores opened by recent Cleveland Heights Highs School grads on Coventry.  There'd be the individual farmers at the farmer's markets and our unique hair dressers and barbers. There'd be tailors and cobblers and artisan bakers like On the Rise.

And I would bet that we might get hits from potential tourists at some point in the future. 

And we could include a citizen's guide to our parks - metroparks, CVNP and city parks. GCBL has a section on sacred places, but no maps or directions.  Over time we could amass the real northeast Ohio for those who live here and for those who don't.

Would those businesses and places give back a bit to realneo to help keep the site alive? I don't know, but then I haven't asked either.


We have a lot of Mary's stuff in our wardrobes. She has a good eye.

We started going there because of our Brothers Printing visits, for political print jobs. We kept going to Mary's long after we bagged conventional politics.

Muy caliente

Brooke Nieves and her mom and dad have the best cool clothes store in Cleveland.  A short bike ride away from my house.   And, priced so reasonably.
How do I get the lazy kids to get over there??? 
Powter Puff Boutique
2671 West 14th St.
Cleveland OH  44114

GEMS boutique

For those seeking out the true BEST of CLEVELAND experience, I ran into Mary of GEM's Boutique and I can report that she is now in the Colonial Arcade, which runs between Euclid and Prospect at East 6th St.  Her hours are 11-6 Weekdays.  The phone is 216-621-5657.  We talked Susan and she says hi to you!  Outta towners, please check it out.  It's the real Cleveland thang ;)

well worth the click...

His story made me cry. What a beautiful man....