Columnist Susan Wozniak: Fabrics in the autumn of life

  • Susan Wozniak, columnist

Published: 9/28/2021 5:00:04 PM

I have lived at the 42nd parallel all my life and have always relished the shift from summer to fall. This year’s change is different than past changes have been.

The pandemic is partially responsible, but, so is age. I am old enough to remember that white shoes were ordered out of sight after Labor Day. The many explanations for this rule generally involve a rich woman who was leaving her Newport home because the season had ended. She headed back to the city with her white shoes in her luggage where they would stay until spring. However, one story traces the custom back to the 18th century.

On my own part, I simply like the way color presents itself each season. As the darkness of winter eases and spring makes its presence known, nothing is more refreshing than unpacking the pinks and the khakis that make up the backbone of my warm weather wardrobe. The gauzes and voiles are welcome as the black, purple and red woolens are washed and stored.

But, autumn, particularly here in New England, presents its own seasonal fireworks. Oranges and olives, browns and reds, yellows and purples explode across the landscape. Maybe imitating the wealthy was not the reason for tucking white shoes away. Maybe it was the desire to frolic with Mother Nature.

Yesterday, I washed the dress I wore most often this summer: a loose-fitting bright pink gauze affair that is too bright and too ethereal to wear as the sunlight softens.

But, as I said, this year is different than previous years. I was unable to chose my own age for retirement, due to the ever unpopular situation beyond control. For the most part, after that first year’s spring trip to the dry cleaner for the coats and blazers, and the hand-washing of skirts and sweaters, the majority of the clothes remained in the guest room closet. Due to great thrift shops, gifts and some timely sales, I developed a more casual way of dressing that is suitable for a woman in the autumn of her life.

Long ago, during my time as a stay-at-home mother, I took up sewing. Then, it seemed that every town with a population over 100,000 had a fabric shop. I was able to follow my taste in materials. I took classes. I did what every quilter and home sewist does: I participated in the contest to determine who will die with the most fabric and win. Not only do I have too much clothing, I have boxes and boxes of fabric and unfinished projects. I estimate that I will have to live to 150 to use all the material, although a friend said she won’t finish before she is 213!

This fall, I am carrying the duplicates — after all, who needs six black skirts, even if the hems are at different lengths and the fabrics are not the same — to a thrift shop. Fortunately, when my oldest granddaughter heard of the pruning, she asked if I had any turtlenecks. I will send four to her this week.

As for fabrics, I gave away a few pieces that were either of the what-was-I-thinking variety, or had been ordered through catalogs then turned out not to be suitable. What is painful is that the fabric bought for a baby quilt is still in its bag, but, perhaps a certain little girl who inherited her mother’s American Girl doll will like it to have a new dress.

At the bottom of the swirl of feelings, however, is accepting old age. Over the past several years, some of my favorite musicians have died. Cancer took a cousin and a friend succumbed ALS. Another friend told me not to be gloomy, and I answered that I could walk out the door and be hit by a bus. She laughed.

Accepting old age doesn’t mean camping out in a recliner except to partake of the early bird specials at restaurants. That’s giving up. It really means doing what I enjoy, but, giving up on crossing my legs. It means making certain I finish projects, whether it is the quilt for my sofa; rain ponchos for the grandkids that will use up that large piece of water resistant cloth and that novel that is still just 90 typed pages in a purple folder.

Just as it is autumn in New England, this is the autumn of my life.

Susan Wozniak can be reached at

Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061


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