Guilt Cloth

The Sewing Divas are sponsoring this week’s Carnivale of Couture. Their question reads:

…the meaning of fashion, and our attachment to it, goes much deeper than mere trends or seasonal change. Each of us has memories, sometimes tender, sometimes not, of particular garments or accessories that evoke strong feelings and attachments. So this week’s Carnivale of the Couture topic is “Ritual Cloth” – tell us about your special item, the story behind it and why it transcends mere fashion for you…

The theme of my entry is guilt ~sigh~. This first piece is a purse made by Victoria Horner, one of “my” DEs. It was made from an antique kimono.

Victoria sent me this bag for Christmas in 1999. At that time my life was falling apart; I’d just gotten my diagnosis, my then husband was divorcing me, my son and I had no money and no place to go. Outside of childhood, it was the worst Christmas of my life. Victoria’s bag was the only gift I got that year. In the midst of abandonment, desperation and betrayal, I couldn’t stop crying long enough to thank her. I didn’t feel like anyone cared about me or loved me and I could never muster the words that came close to expressing my gratitude. I felt so guilty that I haven’t written her in 6 years. I guess she’ll know today since I’m linking to her (assuming she checks her site stats; I’m still too chicken to write). I can only hope she’s forgiven me.


This next guilt cloth is a child’s backpack. I made this for my son when he started pre-school, I’d just gotten a job (the fabric came from the floor of the cutting room so I was risking firing) and while things were looking up for us, our poverty was palpable. I just couldn’t send my son to school without one; all the other kids had one and he didn’t need to stand out anymore than he already did. I got the zippers, hardware and strap padding from a discarded (torn) cheap backpack I found in the alley.

At this time I was still making our own soap (too poor to buy it), washing clothes in the bath tub, drying sheets on the fence (and watching them from the porch; our neighborhood was bad) and ferrying my son back and forth to school on my bicycle and then going to work. I did my grocery shopping on the city bus but I also used the back pack for small shopping trips. This is the same time period in which my bike got stolen. I’ve never gotten over that. Nobody could have needed that bike more than we did.

This next guilt cloth is a sportcoat I made for my son when he was about 5 years old. The sample maker at work (Leona) invited me to her daughter’s wedding which she was hosting. She is Pueblo Indian and I was the only anglo person invited; it was quite an honor. I made this for my son to wear to the wedding but we never made it. My then boyfriend (who later became my then spouse) started a fight with me beforehand and refused to take us (I still didn’t have a car then). It wasn’t until years later that I figured out he was prejudiced against Native Americans (I am so slow). I know it wasn’t my fault we didn’t go but I’ve always felt like I betrayed her.

Mike has never worn the coat and Leona never forgave me.

I couldn’t find the one item I wanted to feature. It was a coat I’d made for my son when he was about 4 years old. We’d just gotten out of the battered women’s shelter and were living in a halfway house and he was ill or hospitalized most of the time. I wasn’t -couldn’t- work, winter was coming and he needed a coat. Children’s coats are hard to find at the Salvation Army so I got a man’s coat and took it apart to make him one. I did have a sewing machine because a volunteer at the shelter had given me one (a DE going out of business). He loved it and wore it till it was ragged. I can’t find it but it is the inspiration for a personal project of mine that I’d like to pick up again. I used to teach coat sewing -free- provided it’s a children’s coat and it is donated to a battered women’s shelter. If you think you might be interested in a project like this, do let me know.

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23 comments

  1. Alison Cummins says:

    Guilt is so destructive. The objective circumstances of poverty are bad enough without the additional burden of the guilt that eats away at us. And eat away it does.

    I can tell you are an artist. You have taken that guilt and made a beautiful piece of writing. Brava!

    … and Hugs!

  2. Gigi says:

    Wow, Kathleen. Those are very powerful stories. It is amazing to me the memories and emotions – good and bad – a piece of cloth can hold.

  3. big Irv says:

    Thanks for sharing those stories. You bring a tender touch to this industry and this is just another example.
    Do those pocket flaps have a style name ? Don’t see them often.

  4. J C Sprowls says:

    Please add my name to the interested list for ‘coats for tots’. I have a few kids projects I’d like to try out.

    Let me add a task to my ‘to do’ list to explore advertising for fabric (and clothing) donations at my office. I’d need some program literature, though. Would you like some help to put that together?

  5. Andrea says:

    I visit your site from time to time because I want to be in the fashion industry. You’re stories gaves me an insight to more than fashion today. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Josh says:

    I love hearing about your personal life and I’d love to hear more. You should write a book just on your personal life. It would be a great read.

    The back pack makes me want to sing “Coat Of Many Colors” by Dolly Parton.

  7. Danielle says:

    This is a great post. So grateful that you held onto these pieces… and shared your stories… no matter what you might say, you are one of my favourite writers.

  8. Mary Beth says:

    As a member of the site hosting the Carnival “Ritual Cloth” I am so touched and thankful that you have considered this piece as your entry to share with us. I’m also glad you’ve not jettisoned this pieces from your stash, which must be considerable. I feel honored.

  9. Liesl says:

    Wow. You are really an amazing person. Good for you, overcoming all that! I hope that the guilt part won’t follow you around; you have come so far and are clearly a very strong person. Best wishes!

  10. Phyllis says:

    Kthleen – I think I’ll lead off ur Carnivale the Couture with your story. This is exacttly what The Sewing Divas were hoping for! Thank you very very much for sharing such personal and vivid memories. As soon as I dry my eyes I’ll start drafting something…

  11. Gidget says:

    It’s always amazing what the human spirit can get us through. Guilty feelings need to be dropped as quickly as possible! Just as life is too short not to trust, it’s too short to spend it feeling guilty!

    Isn’t it funny, as a mom, the items I thought about too were things I had made for my sons. I can still smell them on these garments. Last winter, after having made the kids their winter coats, I was teary eyed when some cousins visited, sporting all the latest fashions, because my kids were wearing all home-made clothes so we could afford to buy their shoes instead. Then my nephew asked for one just like my son’s coat saying … Aunt Gidge, will you make me one of those “sewn with love in the stitches” coats like Josh has? Josh had been bragging to his cousin about his coat. It brought me back around and I haven’t been ashamed since.

    Great Post Kathleen!!!!

  12. Beverly says:

    Everything, good or bad, that has happened to you over the course of your life, has made you into the wonderful person you are today. For that, you can be truly thankful.

    On the other hand, I fervently hope there is a special hell for abusive spouses. You are very brave to have broken away from that.

    Thank you for connecting us with you on another level.

  13. Judith says:

    Thanks for sharing these stories with us. I have been going through our clothing, my sons and mine. I have some brand new coats and shoes for boys that I will drop off at the Favor House. The Favor House is for abused women that have left their husbands/boyfriends. They have nothing. I donate things to them when I can. Over the last 2 yrs I have given them clothing. Quite a bit of it is brand new. I bought child shoes that he would not wear. Same thing with the coats. I know that someone who needs this clothing and shoes will get it and wear it. This is good.

  14. colourgirlie says:

    [hugs for Kathleen] I can only hope to have as much determination and strength as you do. The pieces are absolutely beautiful. Please add me to the list for the children’s coat class. I’d love to learn.

  15. There are no words for your stories. I only hope that the two friends from your stories will get back in touch with you and re-establish broken ties. I think both would, or at least I hope they would.

  16. Mrs. Threadneedle says:

    Oh Kathleen, what did not kill us only strengthened us. I was in the same situation and I finally left my spouse when he refused to let me have the car to drive 20 miles to my baby brother’s wedding, after promising me. I remember working so hard and then spending weekends sewing little homemade creative animal appliques on the knees of my boys’ clothing so they could wear them longer. Your stories really belong in publication. I would love to buy one; would even pay in advance. Blessings and best wishes to you. I love this blog.

  17. One of life’s great ironies: GOOD people have the hardest time focusing on their personal beauty, even though they have the most of it.


    I used to teach coat sewing -free- provided it’s a children’s coat and it is donated to a battered women’s shelter. If you think you might be interested in a project like this, do let me know.

    What a beautiful idea! I’d be interested.

  18. Carol Kimball says:

    Re: children’s coats
    I’d certainly participate. Perhaps several of us in the Denver area could get together and slam out a number for our local shelters.

  19. Charlie Riley says:

    I’ve come to this entry late!–I’m still reading through all the posts–and I swear, Kathleen, that backpack is the most beautiful backpack I’ve ever seen, because of why it was made and how it was used. You made my mother’s heart sing with this.

    Okay, and I like the colors. ;D

  20. Hope says:

    Your stories are so moving, and your website simply the best. The backpack and coat you made for your son are a celebration.

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