While I'm in Europe gathering the seeds for my next book I leave you with this excerpt from my memoir, I Am Hutterite.
Alone in her upstairs bedroom, Mary reached for her wedding dress and stroked its soft, rich fabric. It had been meticulously constructed from six yards of beautiful brocade delivered to her door three weeks earlier. The material had come from a reserve of fabrics held on hand by the head seamstress, following one of her twice yearly buying trips to the Winnipeg wholesaler, Gilfix and Roy. Along with the bolts of modest cotton prints for dresses, black rayon for pants, and checkered cotton for shirts, the seamstress kept a judicious eye out for finer fabrics in the event of a wedding announcement.
It would not have occurred to Mary to wish for an elaborate, white bridal gown with a matching veil so prized by women in the outside world. Blue was the traditional color for Hutterite brides, and her simple ensemble was comprised of the same five pieces as a standard Hutterite dress: a Pfaht (cropped white shirt), a Mieder (vest), a Kittel (ankle-length, gathered skirt), a Fittig (pleated apron), and Wannick (jacket). It was as practical and fluid as her everyday dresses, but its texture and color ensured that for the next twelve hours she would be the center of attention.
Today for the first time, Mary's apron was the identical deep cornflower blue as her dress. Women’s aprons were always a distinctly different color from the rest of the outfit, but friends had pressured her into setting a new trend and cutting her apron from the same fabric as her dress.
She slipped on her Pfaht and Mieder and fixed her Kittel with a safety pin. Holding her breath, she centered her matching Fittig over her Kittel and Mieder and wrapped the extra-long apron ties twice around her twenty-four-inch waist, firmly positioning them into a neat bow on her left side.
Sometimes a mother or older sister with advanced sewing skills would tailor something as important as a wedding dress, but Mary was an experienced seamstress and had sewn the outfit herself. She tried to catch a full-length glimpse of herself in the small, dime-store mirror Paul Vetter had nailed to the opposite wall, but all she could see was her trendy blue apron and its precise bow.
Mary combed out her waist-length, dark brown hair and carefully parted it down the middle. With practiced hands she began to drah it, twisting each side tightly into her hairline and securing the coils with hairpins in the same manner that her mother, her grandmother, and great grandmother had done before her. The hairstyle had been fashionable in Austria in the early 1500's and adopted by Hutterite women ever since for its modesty and simplicity.
Mary wondered if her father was watching as she gently lifted her Tiechel from the bed. The black kerchief with white polka dots had distinguished Hutterite women in North America for more than a century. As a young girl Mary had tried on her sisters’ Tiechlen and imagined her own ascension to womanhood. She would take the pointed ends of the kerchief and practice folding the fabric, twice clockwise against her cheeks before twisting the ends in a knot under her chin. She loved the dark of the fabric next to her clear, pale complexion and the stiffness of the starched cotton against her face. Six months before she turned fifteen she had sewn her very own Tiechel and had proudly embroidered the initials J.M., (Joseph’s Mary), into the left corner.
Today, the simple triangle of fabric would serve her as her veil, as much a symbol of her identity as a crown to a queen. She had taken extra care to starch and press it, using the weight of a hot iron to crease a sharp v through the middle. She centered it on her head and tightly knotted it under her chin, pleased with stylish crest it formed at the top.
She wore neither makeup nor jewelry; both were forbidden. In a culture that stressed an inner adornment of the heart, her smile would be enough.
I Am Hutterite is on sale for $15.00 at www.polkadotpress.ca/thebooks
To all Educators:I Am Hutterite is widely used in schools and universities as a teaching tool for ELA, Canadian History and Cultural Diversity. You can download a curriculum guide in the link at www.polkadotpress.ca/thebooks. Thank you for sharing our beautiful culture with your students.
Mary-Ann Kirkby is a Hutterite Author and Professional Speaker. Her award-winning books, Secrets of a Hutterite Kitchen, and I Am Hutterite, are available at www.polkadotpress.ca. Contact Mary-Ann at firstname.lastname@example.org or on FaceBook @ www.facebook.com/maryannkirkbyhutterite
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