Maestra Sarta (Master Seamstress)

The maestra sarta

Josephine’s mother, maestra sarta

Josephine’s mother was a maestra sarta, a master seamstress, which was and still is a highly respected and honorable profession in Italy, where she was born. This is the story of Josephine’s mother and the gift she gave two generations of women …

My mom was born in a small town in Italy in 1931. She loved school and hoped to continue her education, but when she finished the 8th grade her family needed her at home to help out. It was the early 1940s, the country was at war, supplies were scarce, and my mother was the oldest of five children. Her mom was not well. She was needed: she sewed shirts, using parts of older shirts to fix newer ones, washed clothes by hand, and ironed for hours so that her younger siblings and extended family had the proper clothing to continue attending school or work. Her family was refined and tried to maintain a normal life despite food shortages and the other casualties of war. My mom remembers that her uncle, a shoemaker, made her high-heeled shoes out of a leather bag and wood. Growing up, I was often told about those shoes; my mom received many compliments when she wore the shoes with a dress she had made.

As the war ended and her younger siblings continued their schooling, my mom had to figure out what to do. She felt that she was too old to start high school and she was still helping out at home. Her dad offered to pay for her to apprentice with a master tailor. She would learn how to design clothing and cut a pattern and sew. This was a very respected profession in those days since many people had their clothes made for them. There weren’t any malls in Italy where people could shop for mass-produced clothing. Since most women of her generation lived with their parents or their husbands and never worked, my grandfather was rather progressive. My mom continued her training in fits and starts, as she also helped at home. She made clothing for her extended family and friends but never worked for a company or opened her own business. In spite of the hardships she faced she remained faithful to her passion: she loved the latest fashions, followed fashion in magazines and imitated the styles of the time, adapting to her conservative culture when needed. Continue reading

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