|A little of this and that...|
I wish I had a picture of her, but I don't. She didn't like having her picture taken and would never allow me to snap it - she would say, "Why in the world you wanna a picture of an old black woman?" That was Rena Cooper, my 85-year old neighbor - a tall, painfully thin, sharp-witted woman who sported a fishing hat and sleeveless jacket year around. Over the few years that I had the pleasure of knowing her, she shared with me many of her herbal remedies, gardening secrets, and gave me a lesson or two about marriage (she herself being married 5 times). Once, I asked her which of her husbands she liked best (as if her husbands were an accessory - lol!), "Mr. Curry," she said, flashing a smile. He was husband number three, and as she described it, their relationship was molten. But then she said, "Good marriages, they ain't built on burnin' loins." I suppose not. Her life was not defined by her many marriages, however - Coop (as we called her) was an accomplished seamstress, a compassionate nurse, and well-respected deaconess at a local baptist church. Her life, as she told it to me in bits and pieces, was passionate, tragic, sorrowful, spiritual, and eventually, when I came to know her in the early 1990s, quiet and settled.
|"Mother's" corset, c. 1915|
|Lap-seam detail (my reform corset)|
It is here where I imagine the reform corset had it's birth - with the working woman, whether her endeavors were in or outside the home. Engaging in living history, as me and my costuming posse like to do from time to time, means more than just "making pretty" - it is means walking in another's shoes, or rather, wearing "Mother's" corset...
*For more photos of Rena Cooper's garments and construction photos of my reform corset in the making, please view my Dressmaker's Album.