The Case for Homemade Clothes

Diane Helentjaris
8 min readJun 3

Balancing needs, time, love, and money

Handsewn Toddler Dress by Author. Photo by Author.

My luggage was a brown paper bag and it held only one item, my nightie — all I needed for my weekend with my grandparents. Their home in Dayton was an I-house, so-named because many of the original builders were from Indiana, Illinois, and Iowa. Indiana was only thirty-five miles to the west. Two stories high, only one room deep, it had a small, covered porch attached to the last room, the kitchen. Multicolor asphalt siding climbed half-way up the front. Modest as the house was, it had sheltered many. Neat, tidy, with well-tended flowers in the yard, two dogs, shelves of houseplants, and the aroma of beef and noodles, the house on the corner of Second Street and North Jersey epitomized homelife.

In those days, after the GIs came home from the War, housing was scarce. Many doubled up. For a time, my grandparents opened their home to a boarder, a young woman named Rose. Other times, my great uncle Claudie lived with them. I was their “weekend boarder,” spending most weekends with them. My teenage aunts, Shirley and Betty, still at home, made me their pint-sized mascot. They took me to the movies to see Pat Boone and Elvis, drove me in Shirley’s convertible to the drive-in restaurant and bought me hamburgers wrapped in white paper. They teased me and told me outrageous fibs. Saturday mornings were set aside for housework as, weekdays, my grandmother worked on the line at NCR, banging out big silver-colored cash registers. She showed me how to water the houseplants, how much water to give the aloe, how much for the cactus, and how much for the rest. I wiped the mirror on the coat closet with Windex and enjoyed it.

Aunt Betty and me at my grandparents’ home. Photo from author.

I gave an enthusiastic “yes” whenever my grandfather asked me in German if I wanted to come for a visit. The trip was less than a block from my home. We lived in my great aunt’s double, a duplex, which we shared with her son Earl. Earl, his wife, and four kids lived in one half. My parents, two brothers, and I lived in the other. It would be decades before it dawned on me that, by having me over, my grandparents eased my parents’ childcare load.

Diane Helentjaris

Writer with a love of the overlooked. Author of the new historical fiction novel The Indenture of Ivy O’Neill,