Tillie walked the hall, the sound of her daytime boots echoing as wooden heel met the planked floor. She closed the door to the Home Economics Room for the last time. Tillie thought of the many hours spent in the room, perfecting her dressmaking skills. She memorized the sights and sounds of her second home during the stay at St. Joseph’s Academy. A row of treadle machines was flanked by walnut tables and matching folding chairs. Beyond the work tables was the line of wardrobes, doors now closed, but Tillie could still envision the garments in various stages of construction that hung from each student’s cubby. Hanging lamps gave the welcome light for detailed stitching. The sound of pumping treadles, the whir of the needles as they formed the chain of stitches, once a constant hum, were now silent.
Tillie walked to the next building. Satchel in hand, Tillie turned and glanced around in the stark dormitory. Her heart memorized the room as her eyes rested on the curtained cubicle that enclosed her bed. Heavy drapery attached to the metal pipe hung three feet from the ceiling, and almost touched the four sides of her single metal bed. A solid, plain coverlet covered the thin mattress, a wooden chair placed precisely at the right foot and the small square dresser at the head held the basin and bowl. This was the extent of her living quarters. Over-sized windows illuminated the room by day and a single lamp hung in the center for evening light. More than a dozen girls shared this institutional space, each with their own six foot by eight foot chamber. She felt no sadness as she surveyed the room. Instead, the spirits of her classmates filled the room with laughter and chatter. It was graduation day; her time here was over. The skills learned and life lessons taught in the last six months would go with her. And she smiled as she was transported to an earlier moment in her life.
She was once again sitting at the table in the simple farm home near Cold Spring, MN with Pa and Ma. The discussion was exciting. Michael and Susanna Lardy recognized her talent with needle and thread.
"That girl has a talent," Pa stated.
"Yes, she sews a fine stitch," Susan agreed, an accomplished seamstress herself.
"She can earn a fine sum of money. A girl can support herself with a skill like that. I read in the newspaper of a young seamstress out east who earned one hundred dollars each month!"
The decision was made to allow Tillie to attend St. Joseph’s Academy to study with the Benedictine Sisters. The forty miles from home to the academy was a day’s journey. She would board at the school to study the art of dressmaking. It was a dream come true for Tillie. She was happiest with a bolt of fabric, scissors and thread, and had wished for the chance to learn all the finest stitches. After many hours of preparations, the day finally arrived.
Butterflies filled Tillie as she climbed into the covered buggy with Pa. Her trunk rested in the back, all her worldly possessions neatly tucked in layers of white cotton. One dress for Mass and one dress for other occasions. New shears, needles, threads and fabrics were added as well. Her journey into a new life at the age of sixteen had begun.
“Matilda, come on, we’ll be late!” jolted Tillie back to the present time. Her time was finished at St. Joseph’s Academy and she was traveling to the state of Iowa. Arrangements had been made for her stay with relatives, the Schmidt family. Maggie, her cousin, was close to her age and one of her dearest friends. Ma and Pa had decided there was more work in Iowa than with them. Ma and Pa had made the decision, based on Ma’s fragile health and her battle with asthma, to move the family to Sentinel Butte, North Dakota. The air was much drier and the family doctor felt that would be better for Susanna’s lungs.
So Tillie did not join her family in the move, rather she moved to Black Hawk County,Iowa. She stayed with the Schmidt family, but would also go and live with other families to do their sewing. She made her home with each family as long as necessary to take care of their sewing needs. She would sew anything from bed linens, to underclothing, to dresses and suits. At times she had a treadle sewing machine to create the items needed. Other times she would rely on her skill with a needle and thread. Both methods had been perfected during her education at St. Joseph’s Academy.
At one point in her career as interim seamstress, she was invited to stay at the home of Nicholas and Anna Kremer. Tillie turned the heads of the two young men, Matt and John. Her skills as a seamstress enabled her to dress very stylish. Her trim, 19 inch waistline was the perfect complement to her tiny five foot one inch stature. Her clothes were impeccable fit and accentuated her well cared for figure. Petite feet and fashionable shoes, and the five dollar hat she wore proudly, gave the young men a treat for their eyes.
Both brothers wanted to court Tillie. One evening as they two worked doing the family chores, an argument ensued.
“I’m the older brother, I should get first chance,” argued Matt.
“Well, she likes me better, so I should get the chance,” John retorted.
One heated word led to another and soon one brother pushed the other. This was followed by a more forceful shove and the wrestling match was on. The two brothers settled their disagreement in a way they had reached a compromise many times before, the fittest and the strongest was the victor.
On January 14, 1914, Matilda Lardy was wedded to Matt Kremer in her parent’s home town of Sentinel Butte, North Dakota. The ceremony took place in the Opera House, as the church in the town was not built until the following year. Tillie fashioned her own wedding gown. It was made of velvet brocade. The bodice was made of handkerchief linen, with a stand up brocade collar, edged in lace. Her jacket, also crafted from velvet brocade fabric, buttoned at her diminutive waist with self-covered buttons and lace at the sleeve hems. She wore matching velvet pumps with a velvet bow. Tillie was beautiful in her latest style bridal attire.
Matt brought his new bride back to Black Hawk County, where they settled. Soon afterward they began their family. Matt farmed and was a very successful and well respected farmer in the area. Tillie was well known for her tremendous faith, beautiful flower garden and bountiful vegetable garden. She supplied countless bouquets of flowers for the church they attended.
Matt and Tillie celebrated fifty-three years of marriage. Tillie passed away on September 15, 1967 and Matt passed away on June 29, 1978. Leaving a true legacy of love, they were parents to twelve children, Marie, Joseph, Agnes, Mathilda, Margaret, Rose, Rita, Lucille, Theresa, Matt, Alfred and Robert; and grandparents to eighty-three.
Matt’s brother, John, eventually found his own love and married Susie Nizen. Matt and Tillie Kremer, John and Suzie Kremer became the best of friends and spent many evenings and Sunday afternoons gathered as one family.
Tillie could make her own patterns. All the clothing made for her children were fashioned for clothes she recut and remade to look as good as anything purchase in a store. Tillie Kremer continued to sew all her life and never stopped creating items with her sewing machine.