Theresa Veltri (with the help of Anna Muller and Talylorann Lenze)
Sewing Machine and Sheep with pysanky
A Singer sewing machine may have been a staple of many 1900s women’s households, but for Janina Andrzejczak, it was also a way to maintain and pass on culture.
“My mom used to make all of our Polish dance costumes,” the Janina’s daughter, Theresa Veltri remembers. “Three of the four of us kids used to take Polish dance lessons every Saturday, ending the year each May with a dance recital. We were even in the Hamtramck Parade one year with our Polish costumes.” These historical costumes weren’t an easy or cheap commodity in the 1970s and still aren’t now, so the sewing machine with an “old fashioned foot pedal that you pump up and down to make the machine sew” allowed Janina to laboriously create the intricate clothes.
“I remember her staying up late sewing the costumes herself because we didn’t have enough money for someone else to make them for us,” Veltri explains.
The clothing wasn’t Janina’s only effort to pass on her Polish culture to her children. “My mom… was also a fantastic cook always making traditional Polish food like pierogi, gołąbki, soups, and other foods…. She would always cook lamb for Easter,” Veltri notes. “My mom was a devout Catholic and very strong in her faith.” Thus, like in the Catholic tradition in Poland, Easter traditions were probably important for the family. Around Easter, Veltri remembers always seeing an Easter lamb statuette surrounded with pysanky. She and her siblings didn’t paint the colorful eggs themselves but were aware that the delicate art came from Poland.
Though all four children (the two boys and two girls) were born in Detroit, where Janina met her Polish husband after WWII, they grew up speaking Polish with their mom at home. The influence is still clear. Veltri defines herself as “first generation here in America and... 100% Polish.” Though firmly American, it doesn’t detract from the cherished Polish identity. Like the Polish identity, the sewing machine that helped create so many dance costumes was also retained by the children. It is now in Veltri’s sister’s possession