I never expected to have a coming-of-of-age experience in a fabric store. Of all places, a fabric store represented to me the most dreaded domain of domesticity. But that's exactly what happened when I found myself, an inveterate urbanite, walking into G Street Fabrics in the Washington suburb where I had just moved with my husband of one year.
I had mixed feelings, not just about the fabric store, but about my entire new existence as a suburbanite. However, I needed material to make a set of pillows in an effort to try and salvage an old couch that no longer looked bohemian in a 50-year-old colonial. The store-bought pillows cost $80 and I barely had a dime left after we made the down payment on our home.
I entered the fabric store a woman in a hurry, a woman thinking of how quickly she could get this over with and return to her job. But then I got to the "notions" department, spotted the Rit dye and the pink flamingo appliques, and I was bolted back in time. It was a dizzying journey, slightly disorienting at first but then, surprisingly, wonderful. I looked around and saw women -- all sorts of women -- at work, sharing, browsing, laughing, just plain communicating. After all those years of paddling the journalistic waters upstream, single-mindedly, competitively, yes, even at times ruthlessly, I was starved for this relaxed atmosphere among what appeared to be a lot of independent, happy, capable and intelligent females.
It's funny; that's not the way I remembered women in clothing stores. Had the women changed, or had I? Certainly, my history with sewing would never indicate the joyous reaction I was having.
During my professional career, I have dashed into a few fabric stores, usually in search of buttons. The stores were little holes-in-the-wall and the buttons were typically on cards hung in disarray on revolving racks. I would duck in and out, and wonder who sewed anymore? I was always reminded of a time when women spent their days dusting, making beds and stitching hems -- a time in which I had no interest in participating.
My mother used to sew all my clothes, and even as a kid I hated it. There was what my sister and I call the felt-dress fiasco, when Mom made us look-a-like dresses cut from brightly colored felt, like the kind that Christmas tree skirts are made of. The way my mother reasoned, the felt wouldn't ravel, so it saved her the finishing work. The unstitched armholes, neck and hem were cut so unevenly, the material looked as though it had been chewed off. I wore mine exactly -- painfully -- once.
There are numerous other stories of home-sewn clothes in my family, mostly just shared between my sister and myself.
My mother was not a seamstress, but she had two girls to clothe and needed to save money. So, she gamely created unique fashion statements that coincided with what fabrics were on sale that week and what patterns she could master. I won't mention the hot-pink double-knit hipster dress with the purple, green and pink paisley corduroy bottom.
By the time I made it into junior high school, I complained so much about my homemade clothes that my mother finally sent me out to the fabric stores by myself. What I really wanted were the store-bought Villager-label shirtwaists with the tucks down the front in tiny flower patterns that a lot of the other girls wore. In fact, I wanted five of them, one for every day. Add some baby doll Capezio shoes and I wouldn't have had to worry about another thing as long as I lived. But I had to make do and so my solo trips to the fabric store began.
There in the store, I found the pastel-flowered fabric I was looking for and patterns that resembled the store-bought Villager dresses. I bought every color. My mother dutifully made the dresses, tucks and all, and I survived junior high school.
By the time senior high came along I was a reluctant fabric store veteran. With lightning speed (all the better to get out of there), I could pick material, a pattern, matching rick-rack or lace with precision, knowing exactly what could suit my needs without taxing my mother's patience.
But then, college and blue jeans did away with my trips to the fabric store forever, or so I thought.
As I entered the working world as a beginning reporter on a small southern daily, I relished the store-bought dresses my paycheck could occasionally buy.
I never looked back as I took new jobs and discovered the sparkling shopping malls of Dallas, Water Tower Place on Chicago's Michigan Avenue and Sak's Fifth Avenue in New York.
But, now, here I was back at the fabric store, back where my mother had found herself -- a little bit broke but wanting things as good as the store-bought.
What I found at the fabric store was more than my mother's past, however. I found -- for the first time -- her past and my past combined. What I realized was that I had never consciously integrated the two, even though they naturally existed within me, side by side: homemaker and woman-with-meaningful-work.
I also experienced something that was alien to my don't-look-back way of thinking: Tradition.
Danna Walker is a writer for CBS News.