I still shop in the very same Dunnes Stores that I used to visit weekly with my own mother when she ‘did the groceries.’ Unlike my dear mother I tend to attempt early morning raids in order to procure our weeks supplies. My mother however used to spend ages in Dunnes – not in the supermarket, mind you but in Hickey’s Fabric shop – a feature of the Cornelscourt branch of Dunnes Stores in the 70s.
In the beginning I loved visiting Hickey’s which was full of bales of multicoloured material in floral and paisley designs. But best of all was the ‘Pattern Bar’ where I could perch myself up on a high stool and indulge my fashion fantasies while pouring over the pattern books. Glamorous crochet hatted models posing in huge flared trousers, swirly peasant skirts, billowing blouses…. oh how I dreamed.
As I lost myself in the pattern books my mother would be rummaging in a large bin which resided in the centre of the store and was labelled ‘remnants’. She was in heaven with her hands sunk down deep into the bargain trough, pulling out all kinds of bits and pieces of multicoloured fabric, which she could purchase for half nothing.
Sometimes I would call her over to show her something I considered really wonderful, in the hope that she might be tempted to purchase the pattern and make the latest fashion for me, her only daughter. But no, her reply was always the same, as she paid a quick offhand glance at the illustration I was salivating over. “Oh yeah, I could run that up for you in a minute on the sewing machine.” My mother didn’t do patterns. Much like the way she doesn’t do recipes either… but that’s another story.
And so armed with various bits of remnants and off cuts we would leave Hickeys to do the groceries and I would become more and more afraid of the results of my mother’s ‘running up’ on the old Singer.
She was quick, I’ll give her that. Very often by that evening a new garment would be produced with a great flourish. She was enthusiastic. I was usually pretty scared. She had some successes but she also was responsible for ‘my curtains’; the thought of which still gives me a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.
It began one Saturday morning when I found she had ‘run up’ a pair of ‘elephant flares’ for me the previous evening. For the uninitiated, elephant flares were jumbo flares which covered your entire foot – no mean achievement in my case with my size 8 feet. As she handed me her latest creation I did think they looked vaguely familiar but raced upstairs to put them on. They fitted perfectly and my feet disappeared. Oh joy. I was cool at last.
I couldn’t wait to get outside to meet my friends in my trendy new flares. I waited until I was sure that most of the neighbourhood were playing on the road and made my appearance. There was a stunned silence. “They are so jealous” I thought. Finally the silence was broken by one particular girl who shall remain nameless, but rest assured I know exactly who she is. “Ha, ha” she roared, “Barbara’s wearing the curtains,” and she pointed to our front room window. I turned my flaming face to check the windows. I was rooted to the spot as I then looked again at my trousers. Yes they were exactly the same as the reverse side of our living room curtains. Hot tears blurred my way home to kill my mother.
Mother however in her infinite wisdom, calmly explained that she had found some left over material from said curtains but had cleverly turned it inside out so that I wouldn’t match the soft furnishings. She forgot of course that she hadn’t lined the curtains and so although I didn’t quite match their interior view, I was an exact match when viewed from outdoors. She must have been very convincing though, because once I got over the initial embarrassment I cherished my elephant flares and wore them till they fell apart. Although they were always known as my curtains.