Handmade "Arrival Outfit"

In Attire
Handmade outfit worn on arrival, age 15
Handmade outfit worn on arrival, age 15

Several years ago when I began a mixed media series, American Women: Birds of im/Migration, I started with the story of my maternal grandmother, Masha, who had travelled by herself in steerage at age 15, from Petrikov, Belarus to Providence, RI in 1905. The photo I cherish the most is the one of her in her "Arrival Outfit," the one she made herself, hat and all. The one she changed into on the day she stepped onto American soil for the first time. I'd never thought about what that day must have been like for her, nor the days and nights before it on the ship, nor the time before that when she was preparing to leave her mother and her siblings behind. I hadn't thought about her not speaking a word of English or how she made it off that ship in Boston and found her way to her one brother, living in Providence. The stories were rarely told of how she was determined to work as a seamstress, moved to NYC for a year to learn more of the trade and eventually built a reputation for herself, often living in other families' homes making clothing for their children, until finally she opened her own business. My mother recounted that Masha's graciousness and generosity won her total adoration as the family matriarch, till her death in 1951. I realize now why the whole family loves "putting our outfits together", why my mother was constantly mending clothes, my nephew is in the fashion industry. Textiles and design are part of our genetic fabric. Knowing this much more about Masha, lets me salute her for her tenacity, her sense of business and design, as well as her big heartedness.

Place(s): Providence, Rhode Island; Petrikov, Belarus
Year: 1905

– Sara Friedlander

Relationship:  Grandchild of im/migrant Grandchild of im/migrant