Pour some Sugar on Me– Linda Knight Seccaspina
I can’t remember what year as a teen I began wearing fashionable tops made out of Sugar Bags. All I know is when I did my grandmother had a fit. It was bad enough I loved corn, but this? My grandfather said in England corn was only fed to the cows– but to purposely show yourself out in public in such a garment was a travesty to the Mary Louise Deller Knight.
My grandmother said all she could think of was the great poverty of the Great Depression. But in my mind there was a romance to the idea that anyone could make something beautiful from something so mundane as an old sack of sugar or flour or anything else.
In truth, feed sacks were used for sewing well before the depression and for several years after. The evolution of the feed sack is a story of ingenuity and clever marketing. Women looked at these sacks and began to use them for everything in the household and also became popular for clothing items. Manufacturers saw what was happening and they began to print their cloth bags in a variety of patterns and colours.
Every mother and grandmother knew how to sew when I was growing up. Grammy and I would always go to the fabric store and pick out patterns and cloth to make clothes. Unfortunately, my grandmother loved the colour brown, because it was sturdy and basic, much like the sugar bags. I might have been sturdy in size, but I was never basic, and I grew to really not care for the colour brown.
Truth be known I never liked much colour and still don’t, and even though I had creative genes, sewing wasn’t really my forte. In fact I should have walked away from the sewing machine. But, I pinned, I taped, and if it fell apart, well it fell apart, but the general public got the idea of my styles. I am very grateful the glue gun did not exist in those days– truly grateful.
I had never listened to anyone who tried to talk me out of my views on life, fashion, and being yourself. I was sturdy like the mighty feed bags. At age 15 I marched into the CHS Vice Principal’s office who doubled as a guidance counsellor and told him I would not be returning to school the next year. I also asked for my $10 dollar school book deposit back.
I can still remember to this day where his desk was positioned in the room, and the look on his face that was partially hidden by his oversized spectacles. In a crisp but curt tone he scolded me.
“My dear Miss Knight, what golden path have you chosen for yourself?”
“I am going to be a fashion designer Sir,” I said emphatically.
He got out of chair and perched himself on the edge of my chair and asked me loudly if I was joking. He continued in a loud monotonous drone telling me young ladies became either nurses or teachers. The elderly gentleman suggested that maybe I look into the world of home economics if “I enjoyed sewing”.
With that I stood up and again I asked him to cut me a cheque for $10.00. With a look of defiance, a shake of his hand, and $10.00, the world was now my oyster
If my grandmother Mary was my foundation for my hard working ethics, then Saul Cohen was the drywall. He expected me to arrive at my job in a children’s wear manufacturer at 7:30 every morning and I had to ask to leave around 7:45 pm at the end of the day. The man worked me to the bone, and I just chalked it up to experience. I worked in the cutting department, sewing, swept floors, did book work, and worked in the show room. There was not one stone that he did not make me turn over, and turn over again.
‘Sauly” was relentless, and when he found out that my Mother had ties to the Jewish religion he made sure I knew about my heritage. Anytime I asked to leave early he would turn around and say to me,
“Do you know how our people suffered?”.
Another person I owe who I am today is the late Morty Vineberg from Au Bon Marche in Sherbrooke, Quebec. I learned the retail trade from the bottom up from him, and to this day, if there is a spot for just 50 items, and I have 300; I can whip that into shape as fast as you can say “bargain designer clothes”. In those days you took pride in your work, listened and worked hard, and you learned from those that knew.
How do you explain to kids today that’s how life was? You don’t– you had to be there– when life was never sugar coated and as sturdy as an old sugar bag.