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Frugal Living
by Donna Flood
The P.O.W. Camp and the Gathered Skirt

Ginger stepped down off the school bus to enter into her drab grey world where her family had taken refuge from the drought which had shut them out of their country home.

During the second world war German prisoners were held in the very middle of the United States. These barrack looking buildings to house them were standing still in 1953 and were actually in very good shape as far as this sort of building could be, hastily erected with no intention for them to last forever. An actual community was created and it was set here in the vast acres of beautiful rolling green wheat fields.

She slowly walked past the small building which had once been the guard house where soldiers admitted only those who either worked in the camp or had some official business there. Ginger was joined by one of the girls who lived a short distance from her family. The girl neighbor was of a quiet nature, serious and not to waste words with girlish chatter. This was all right since by this time in the evening the school work of the day left them with very little interested in small talk.

She waved good-bye as she was closer to her apartment now.

Ginger looked up toward the very large silo looking building which had a wide circular walk way built all around at the top. The walk way was enclosed with glass and this was a silent reminder of what purpose these buildings served. In her mind she could see the uniformed guards standing there, silent and alert with their guns resting easily on their arms. At the base of the tower was a covered walk way where the prisoners no doubt were led from one building to another.

When Ginger pushed the door open she was greeted by the very fine oak hard wood floors. She was just a girl but this always struck her as being odd. Here were these temporary buildings, stark, undecorated structures with not one effort to soften them with any sort of style. Nevertheless, the floors were of these very fine hard wood. Right in the middle of one of these floors in the kitchen her little six month old baby brother was screaming. His face was flushed and the tears had left his cheeks soft and pliable to her kiss as she rushed to pick him up.

"How long has he been crying?" she glared at Mrs. Steven who had been hired by her mother to care for the baby.

"All day," the woman was unafraid of the girl as to her question and she continued with her preparation of the evening meal. This was an error on her part, this underestimating the young girl's interest of the matters of home.

During the evening meal the family was quietly enjoying the food Mrs. Stevens had cooked when Ginger's mother commented, "Mrs. Stevens is a wonderful cook, isn't she?" No one really had a reason to answer. They, of course, would have much rather had their mother's cooking.

"She isn't as good a cook as you are Mama," Ginger volunteered.

"Well, she is good with the baby, and this is the most important thing?" the mother was working with her family as was her custom.

"She isn't good with the baby," Ginger found the opportune time to vent her anger as far as to Mrs. Stevens was concerned as to her letting their dearly loved little brother cry sobbing heart breaking tears, and for the whole day, the woman had bragged.

"Why?" came the quick uncomplicated question their mother was known to use.

When Ginger told her mother about the scene into which she had walked, that very afternoon, her mother as usual said nothing. However, the next day instead of rushing around to get ready for work she was spending her time at home. Later on in the afternoon when Ginger opened the front door she was greeted by a smiling baby sitting on his mother's lap.

"Mother, you didn't go to work?" Ginger was surprised."

"No dear, no work. We will find a way to live without it. I'm not leaving this baby to some one who will let him sit and cry all day. I wonder how many times she did this to our baby. There would have been no knowledge of it if you had not told me. I wanted to work to buy clothes for you. But you can have pretty clothes. We will just find another way."

From that day forward a new effort was made to teach Ginger how to use the old machine her grandmother had left. It was a very old treadle machine, but it worked just fine for the girl as she learned to sew up a gathered skirt, blouses, even belts. Because her mother had such a taste for nice material there was no end to the new clothes the girl had and here is how she learned to make a gathered skirt.

Gathered Skirt

Gathered SkirtMeasure around the person's waist. Cut a long strip, four inches wide and the length of the waist's measurement, plus two inches. Fold this strip in the middle, length wise and press. This is the belt to be sewn on the skirt.

If your waist is 24 inches, to double this would give you 48 inches or 1 1/3 yard for the skirt which would be sufficient. However, if you want a fuller skirt then, more material. You can measure and cut the material to the length you wish the skirt to be. It is good to have someone help you with this measurement, measuring from the waist to the place on your leg YOU wish the length to be.

You need two rectangles 24" x, by how ever long you wish it to be, for the skirt. Sew the two pieces together making a seam down each side. On one side leave the seam open at the top for up to six inches. At this opening of six inches you can sew velcro to each seam edge as a quick easy placket. Do not bring the velcro all the way up to the top of the fabric since you will need to leave room for gathering the skirt, and sewing on the belt.

To gather this at the waist, begin at the opening you have created on the side. Let the stitch out on your machine until it is at the longest stitch.

One half inch from the edge sew all around the top part of the fabric, when you finish leave the thread extra long, maybe twelve inches. Do the same thing again only drop this seam down one quarter of an inch. Then again until you have three seams in all. Take the extra long threads and pull them until they begin to gather the fabric. Gather this until it is the right size to fit around the waist.

After you have gathered the skirt, take the length of the belt and pin to the top of the skirt. With a long loose stitch, baste by hand the belt to the skirt. Finally, sew the belt to the top of the skirt making sure there is about a two inch longest part to the front of the skirt where you will sew a button hole. Sew the right side of the belt fabric to the right side of the skirt fabric.

Fold a very small handkerchief hem on the top part of the belt fabric, and sew it down or press it. Turn this over onto the skirt. Pin this down. If there are uneven places so as not to lay flat now is the time to work these into place ideally giving a smooth belt to the outside of it. Baste this down, press and sew this on with a hand whip stitch.

Sew a button to the back section of the belt and make a button hole on the front part of the belt.

Hem the skirt by using a smaller shirt tail type hem which is maybe less elegant but certainly much easier as to getting the skirt to hang more evenly. After you have become a better able seamstress you can then work at making a deeper hem.

The beauty of a garment is only left to the ingenuity of the person putting it together. When a girl first begins this part of sewing a world starts to open up as to the changing of a garment according to color, pattern, frills or subtle style, or the adding of accessories for variety. Here deeply held cultural differences can begin to be practiced through the use of her beginning to learn to design and style her own personal creations. The choice she makes as to light against dark, over all light, heavy contrasts or delicate romantic creations all lend themselves to her personality and is fulfilling and satisfying as she begins to be able to control her world.

These were all the things Ginger was fortunate enough to learn from her mother who was herself well educated in the skills of a dress maker. What could have been a world of poverty and despair became a shining sprinkling of color to a decaying old prisoner of war camp.



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