Faraway: Get Out of Your World
Making Every Scrap Into Something Beautiful
I came across an article in The Atlantic this week that pulled me right into the story with a dual hooker: 1) A grandmother who sews; 2) and the Heart Mountain World War II Internment Camp in Wyoming.
My grandmother was a seamstress extraordinaire and I had the great privilege of learning how to sew on her grand old Singer machine while she patiently guided me. Heart Mountain has a place in my heart because I got to attend a special event two years ago at this former WWII Internment Camp. The old barracks have been turned into an educational center that is well worth a visit. If you are ever in Wyoming, perhaps taking in the vistas of Yellowstone Park, take some time to drive east on Highway 14A past Cody heading towards Powell. About 14 miles outside of Cody, slow down, because you can easily whiz right by. There is no big flashing neon sign, just a humble board posted by the side of the road: Heart Mountain Interpretive Center. Look to your left, far from the road toward the mountain, or you will miss this gem that salutes the human spirit. This is a museum and learning center that shows the qualities of courage, energy, and determination that preserve dignity. This is where Japanese-American citizens were imprisoned behind barbed wire during WWII. This is where their love of country was tested. And this is where they triumphed over the corrosive adversities of racism, rejection, and betrayal.
Here is an excerpt from The Atlantic, by Helen Yoshida, July 2, 2014
What My Grandmother Learned in Her World War II Internment Camp
The author discovers long-forgotten notes from a sewing class—and a new dimension of the Japanese-American experience.
My grandmother was 17 when she was sent to the Heart Mountain internment camp in Wyoming with her family. Like many internees, she did not talk about camp later in her life. Instead, she closed that chapter and went on to marry, start a family, and secure a job as a seamstress with a family-owned garment factory in Los Angeles. Growing up, I knew that when my grandmother sewed clothes or accessories she made her own pattern pieces from newspaper. She was confident in her work. Whenever she went out in public she put on lipstick, a pair of low heels, and her best outfit, often taking compliments in stride as she replied, “I made it.” Assuming she was self-taught, I thought her skill was simply one of a group of creative hobbies that included playing piano, folding origami, and knitting. My assumptions proved wrong.
Last November, I returned to Los Angeles to visit family and archive my grandfather’s photographs, some of which he had taken at Heart Mountain. I had not been inside my grandmother’s two fabric rooms since she passed away in August 2012, and it was comforting to step inside once again—to look around at the furniture, the dresser drawers, and the trunk full of sewing materials. As I turned to leave, I saw a red binder open on a table. It contained a series of pattern-drafting instructions and sketches from sewing classes my grandmother had taken at the internment camp. These unearthed notes, alongside her Evacuee Case Files at the National Archives in Washington, D.C., allowed me to reconstruct her sewing education at Heart Mountain and explore how those skills had launched her career. I also came away with a deeper understanding of Japanese-American internment during World War II.
The rest of the article is worth your time. The last paragraph gets to the heart of the story:
Just as she fashioned new clothing from fabric remnants, she used every opportunity to craft a comfortable life for herself. Though she passed away two years ago, her fabric and stories inspire me to cultivate my sewing skills, and to make the most of every circumstance that comes my way. I owe my interest in fashion not to glossy magazines but to a wise woman who had a passion for sewing and a talent for making every scrap into something beautiful.
You can finish reading the story here: http://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2014/07/a-seamstress-of-circumstance/373618/