Thursday, April 1, 2010

Peace Dale Neighborhood Guild: site of grade school sewing and cooking lessons.

Fortunately, Peace Dale, RI, was the village where I was raised. The beauty of the town surrounded me. Rowland Hazard and his sons built many exquisite stone buildings in this town, the first being the mill (Greek revival) in which for the first time all processes in the manufacture of wool were placed under one roof. The sounding of the mill whistle which announced the beginning and end of work as well as any emergency, such as a fire, was part of the village fabric.

Across the street from the mill was another stone building used as offices and the post office. The stone library (Romanesque revival), my favorite place to visit weekly, also had a large auditorium which was used for graduation exercises. The Peace Dale Grammar School (colonial revival) with its bright red brick and white trim was a beauty to behold. The stone Congregational Church (Gothic revival) was a work of art; I shall always remember going to church as early as possible so my friend, Thelma, and I could help Lexus, the sexton, ring the chimes and bells. Other stone buildings included the town hall and the neighborhood guild, which was originally designed to have a place to recreate; it included a gymnasium, baths and showers and living quarters on the second floor.

It was in the Neighborhood Guild that weekly instruction in sewing and cooking was given for all seventh and eighth grade girls; woodworking for boys. How very fortunate we were. We were given sufficient time to walk to our classes there; past the mill and library, past the post office and park. Today children are hardly allowed to walk for parents' fears that some terrible event will befall them. Most are driven every step of the way. Life was much simpler then.

In the cooking class the recipes we cooked were very simple, and, of course, we ate every scrap. For me the challenge was the sewing class. It was the first time that I was introduced to an electric sewing machine. My mother's machine, which I had never used, was driven by a foot pedal, but this was extremely tricky, because a smooth momentum had to be maintained--rather like the smoothness needed to shift car gears.

We were introduced to simple clothing patterns. I mean SIMPLE!! Our first project was a blouse, which consisted of three pieces--the front which included the inside facing, back and collar. The sleeves were slightly longer than a cap sleeve and were part of the front and back pattern pieces. I remember I had picked a flowered, yellow cotton. Fortunately, there were to be no buttonholes; just buttons for show were sewed on the front and snaps to hold the blouse together were hand sewn on the inside. All and all this piece was finished by Christmas, but the weather was a little chilly to wear it very often without a sweater covering it totally.

The next project was to be an A-line skirt, again just three pieces, front, back and waist band. I guess my mom was impressed with my blouse because this time she let me choose a beautiful woolen plaid, made locally at the mill. Extra material had to added to match the plaid, but mom did not seem to mind the extra money. The real challenge aside from making sure that no fingers managed to slip under the machine needle was the installing of the zipper. This was no mean feat. It was precision work and few of us had reached that skill level. Only Gilberta Cloutre knew how to use an electric machine and the entire class was in awe of her. Nevertheless, everyone muddled through and the project was a success. Now, of course, by the end of the school year the weather had turned warm, but everyone wore their skirt whether the fabric was woolen or not!!

Sewing and cooking were optional in high school, but I persisted and continued to take sewing classes. By my junior and senior year I had mastered all the skills necessary for some really snazzy outfits. Among my most accomplished were a rose two piece Crompton corduroy suit--fitted jacket with an eight gore skirt; a basic brown wool dress, and my favorite, a dark green wool suede from Peace Dale Woolens that sported a straight penline skirt and fitted jacket with a fishtail back. These went off to college with me and I was rightfully proud of my workmanship.

Looking back through the years I realize how fortunate I was to have lived in a town with a school system that placed value on such skills.

1 comment:

steve said...

My father was the minister at the Advent Christian church up on the top of the hill straight out of town. I spent my early teen years in Peace Dale and have fond memories of the Libary, Neighborhod Guild and the building straight in front of it with a little bookstore that at the time was named the sign of the unicorn.