Tag Archives: mary louise knight

Never Say Dye, Said Miss RIT

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1920s RIT box thanks to Doris Blackburn/ Karen Blackburn Chenier

I have often wondered where I get my love of wearing dark colours day in and day out.  Did it all stem back to the tender age of 12? On a shopping trip to Granby, Quebec I once met a woman reciting poetry on the street. She was thin, cool, and wore nothing but black. Smoking a long slim cigarette, she blew perfect circles into the air and looked like she didn’t have a care in the world. I immediately assumed at that young age that one did not have to think if you wore the colour black.

But the more I thought about it, I realized my Grandmother never wore colour much either except to Rebekah Lodge meetings. Those box-shaped handmade white dresses she wore didn’t have that much shape to them, but she always added some sort of lace trim–which didn’t help much. But, most days she wore as many shades of blue as she could think of. Her friends must have wondered how she managed all those shades of dark blue she came up with– but I knew how she did it.

Dresses in those days were always “freshened up” according to Grammy and RIT  Dye encouraged creative homemakers like herself to give their dingy clothes new life for just a couple of quarters a box. The ‘catch-all’ drawers in her white bureau situated in the heart of her kitchen contained dozens of boxes of the product. Some days before she bought her washer; a pot of dye would be boiling on top of her woodstove along with lunch.  My grandfather’s eyes would be in a panic when he saw one of her dresses stewing away hoping she would not reuse that pot again for food preparation.

Most garments made out of rayon and crepe were not washed as a whole in those days, and only ‘spot cleaned’ as necessary to preserve the shape and colours. Spot cleaning was huge in my Grandmother’s world–and I always seemed to be her test subject before I went back to school after a lunch that included gravy.

Even though she wore Mitchum’s deodorant, dye ran easily, especially with the dark colours that she wore. Those Kelinart’s underarm dress shields with the plastic linings were worn to reduce those ghastly yellow underarm stains–but they never seemed to work. I know a few vintage dresses I have seen in a friends closet that have not been washed in a  lifetime– but not Grammy’s. The vast majority of the time after spot cleaning they always went back into the pot for a new shade of dark blue. Immediately the rubber gloves went on and a brick went into the pot to weigh the garment down.

I never saw my Grandmother wear pants and her life was a long and sordid tale of  boiling pots, washing machines, and dry-cleaners for her dresses. Life always needed a splash of colour she said, and even when RIT Dye was no longer popular with homemakers Grammy still continued.

In the 1960s  fashion designers began featuring tie-dyed clothing. Tie-dye became the look of a whole generation, saving the RIT Dye brand from extinction. I, being a young thriving fashionista, began tye dying with the best of them under the guided hand of my smiling grandmother. Live fast and dye pretty might not have been in her phrase dictionary, but it was in mine. Grammy made me realize having the control to dye your clothes and change your look was a part of self-expression and has always been the purpose of life for me. I realize now that  self expression was for her too as long as she had a box of RIT.

 

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Come and visit the Lanark County Genealogical Society Facebook page– what’s there? Cool old photos–and lots of things interesting to read. Also check out The Tales of Carleton Place and The Tales of Almonte

A Tale of Two Women

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Dedicated to two women- one I did not know, and one I miss greatly for International Women’s Day

March 2012

A few months ago I went to an estate sale that was simply out of this world. Everything was pre-1960 and I was just like a kid in a candy store. I scored a large box of vintage patterns, hats and purses that I guarded with my life. A green hand crochet bag caught my eye because my grandmother had carried the very same style for years. When I opened it, there inside was a hand coloured photograph of a woman that was signed,

Forever yours, Lois.”

” I love you.”

I asked the woman in charge about the picture and she started telling me the sad story about Lois. Lois’s last name was Lane and I began to giggle, but I soon stopped as she continued her tale. This Lois had not been married to Superman at any point in her life and she had originally been a happy bride until her husband had been shipped off to war. Sad to say Jerry Lane did not make it, and after that Lois’s life went downhill.

Lois began drinking tequila at a bar named Moe’s and hung out in the back alley looking for someone to replace Jerry. As the years went by Lois’s looks also went downhill. She continued to carry the purse with Jerry’s handkerchief in it; the same one she had used to wipe away the tears when he left. Lois was also a huge fan of the movie Gone with the Wind like my grandmother, and tried to style her hair like Vivian Leigh. All of this was too close for comfort – the same green bag and the love of that wonderful movie.

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When the movie finally came to Canada, my grandmother sat in the Princess Theatre in Cowansville, Quebec and watched all three hours and forty four minutes of it. She repeatedly told me the same story about the inspiration of that crocheted green bag. Grammy knew that my grandfather would not let her rip the curtains down to make a dress, so the bag had to do.

She used it throughout the years to hold loose change and Kleenex that held the of movies and funerals. It also carried weekly grocery lists and packets of her beloved Zinnia seeds.

Grammy placed notes inside that she would eventually take to her son’s High School on almost a daily basis. She constantly pleaded with them not to give her son Frederick a vaccination shot as others had gotten bad reactions from them. Those notes in her bag would soon be replaced with funeral notices of Frederick’s passing 60 days later after he had gotten the doomed shot. He was barely 19 years old.

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Mary Louise Deller Knight- Cowansville Quebec- my Grandmother

Like Lois she was organized, and every Friday she would fill the green purse with the small black notebooks that held the working hours of the electricians working for my grandfather’s company. One day the front door of their business at 507 South Street in Cowansville was painted green, and the weekly radio ads would state,

“Visit the F. J. Knight Co. on South Street that is just behind the green door.”

No one knew of course that she had told my grandfather to paint that door green in memory of Scarlet’s beloved dress. One day the green crochet bag was filed away and not seen for years. She had lovingly placed it in a small box with tissue paper to protect it. The green bag had been substituted with a two handled black leatherette bags that were just was not as interesting as the one Scarlet had inspired.

On the other hand Lois continued to carry the same bag until she finally realized that Jerry was not coming back. Missing her superhero husband she ended up overdosing on a bottle of pills and when she died her framed picture was placed in her favourite green bag and forgotten until the garage sale.

Lois never had any children, so I have written this blog in memory of her and my grandmother. After all, everyone should be remembered at some point–because in my life, even if they were just a photograph–  we have loved them all.