Tribute to Margie Fernando

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          Margie Fernando 1917 - 2010

Memories of My Darling Mum – Marlene Peiris (Mrs Margie Fernando’s eldest daughter)

I remember Mum launching on her Sewing Career somewhere in the early 1950's. We lived down Albert Place, Dehiwela; her first customers were the neighbours and those living in and around Dehiwela. I can remember Quaddie and Erica who continued to patronise her even when we moved to the Bamba Flats - Block I Flat 5. We relocated somewhere in 1957 and continued to live here till her demise on 01/04/2010. She was one of the oldest residents of the Bamba. Flats. Our neighbours at the time were the Ferdinands, Ranchigoda, Blakes, Rusquinoes, Nadarajahs, Thamotherams, Ludowykes, Goodchild, Dicksons, Gunawardens, Vandendriesen, Wrights and Ranasinghe etc.

Mum was a quiet achiever and a perfectionist to boot. She realised that to complete her profession there were a few more things she had study so she set about learning the art of cloth flower making also painting and tinting the flowers to look as natural as possible. She located a teacher down Melbourne Avenue I think her name was Mrs. Rabot who herself was quite advanced in years. Mrs. Rabot having sensed Mums special talent gave her few lessons and Mum was confident that she could manage on her own. She armed herself with the iron tools and burner and set about making the most exquisite flowers. This came in handy when she did her bridals and little maids outfits, Her next venture was to make hats, It was Aunty Katie of Katy Modes in Borella who gave her a few lessons in this art. I must also mention that it was at Katie Modes that she fined tuned her sewing(A. Katie was a relation of my Dad) It was here that she also learnt to do machine embroidery. I almost forgot, she also studied the art of Tie and Dye and Batik printing. All the males in the family had Tie & Dye shirts gifted by Mum, I too had a lungi done with batik work, I guess we were the guinea pigs.

By this time her name was well known and her clientele grew so much so that she had to employ 03 helpers to do the neatning as she called it. She used to turn the garment inside out and look at the finished product to satisfy herself. I will be failing if I don't mention our Granny who was an invaluable asset and help to Mum. Granny herself was a seamstress and she would help Mum when it was needed, she also did the planning of meals etc.and looked into the daily household chores.

Her only relaxation was going to the Movies every Sat. and Sun. we would go for the Matinee show which was around 3.30 - 5.30p.m. She would very closely follow the change of programme. Living at the Flats the theatres were very accessible. For Mum shopping meant going to the Fort and Pettah to buy the latest journals and replenish her stock of zips, hooks & eyes and thread which was absolute torture for me.

Of her old clients, I can clearly remember Mrs. Mathiesz, Iona Solomons, Mrs. Rodrigues, Edna Toussaint, Audrey Schokman, Lorna Jonklass, Merle Misso, Cynthia McLeod;

It was around August 2009 when I took Mum for some tests at Durdans this incident took place. A middle aged lady came up to Mum and asked her "Are you Mrs. Fernando from the Flats? " Are you the dressmaker ? When Mum noded in the affirmative, she introduced herself and said "can you remember? you sewed my wedding dress" Yes Mum did remember and gently smiled. She also inquired if she still does her sewing. On hearing all this, I turned to Mum and told her that she has not changed very much or else that lady would not have recognised her. By this time the cancer which finally got Mum had spread extensively. It was her sewing that kept Mums mind away from all the tragedies that came her way. At first it was Stanley's illness and then it was Dad’s sudden and tragic death on 31st Dec.1975. He was knocked down by a speeding driver when he was on his way to St. Paul's Milagiriya. We were too young to realise the challenges ahead of her but she did it. Now as I look back I realise that 3 generations have lived in this flat. Stanley and I lived outstation and when it came to our children having to attend Montessori without thinking of it twice, the kids were brought to Mum who willingly accepted them with open arms. She was proud of all her grandchildren and they in turn they adored her for all she was.

Her acts of charity to the less privileged was countless. There was this one lady who used to come asking for pieces of cloth with which she made patchwork cloths and rugs and made a living to support her family. She was very special to Mum and Mum used to reserve a special bag for this purpose. She would encourage anyone who took to sewing.

Mum was like a diamond of many facets, her God given talent she put to good use. Yes Mum was a very special creation of God and we her children are proud to have had her as our Mother.

Margie Fernando – from her youngest daughter Wendy Welch

A few lines about my Mother. She really was an exceptional lady with loads of talent. Unfortunately, it has not rubbed off on me. I can still picture her sitting at the machine sewing all day, and at night she would do all the cutting of patterns for her customers.

Mum did not need any paper patterns, she would have a look at the style of the dress, put a few pencil marks and pins on the material, and away she goes. How she did not make a mistake is beyond me. I used to watch fascinated as she made flowers out of material for bouquets and special occasions. Heating up the flower making tools and then moulding the material into shape. She also made hats for the ladies and at one stage was heavily into batik making including the once famous tie & dye (what a mess that made).

I will never forget, when the movie "My Fair Lady" was to be released in Sri Lanka, Mrs Goodchild, who lived across from us in Block “J” was somehow involved in the advertising and publicity of the movie. She asked Mum if she could sew the dress that Audrey Hepburn wore to Ascot in the movie. All Mrs Goodchild could give Mum was a black and white photograph of the said dress, which really wasn't all that clear as the photo was taken from an odd angle). Mum had to sew 3 of the same dress as there were to be 3 models at the entrance to the theatre welcoming the patrons. (I forget which theatre - Majestic, Liberty or the Savoy). My, what a hit that was!!! I was so proud of Mum. And so happy to tell everyone that it was MY Mum that made the dresses. She really was a gifted lady. I think of her often and miss her very much.

Mrs. Margie Fernando

1917 -- 2010


When I sent in the death notice of the above-captioned lady, to be included in the Sad News Section of the "Bambalapitiya Flatters" page, it was because all of us in the Flatters' Community either knew her by name as a long-time resident which, as at writing, is about 50 odd years and/or because of her profession. Long before the phrase "small business" or "cottage industry" had been coined, Mrs Fernando had built a reputation for being an excellent seamstress and running her own business or as stated intoday's business world, "working from home". Sewing for outsiders ......... " is as old as it is young" with modern technology at hand. The original Singer Machine was her "reliable" and when the Necchi embroidery machines came on the market, she was one of the 1st we knew who upgraded her work tools and gave employment to others in the seamstressing business. She was her "own boss". This gentle soft spoken lady never seemed rushed or frazzled although she took in large seamstressing orders for more than one client at the same time. Mrs Fernando had the ability to create a style with the soft touch of glamour for the individual client. In this way she built a long-standing business relationship with her clientele, whether they were professionals holding prestigious positions or stay-at-home housewives.

Mrs Fernando was no stranger to sadness. With the demise of her beloved husband under tragic circumstances and later her older son, she still kept a "stiff upper lip" and carried on with professional dignity making sure her clients' needs were met according to their satisfaction.

My reason for writing this is a personal one. The word "osteoporosis" was certainly not in our vocabulary during our adolecent years. When our mother was found to be suffering from it and the complications that followed, Mrs Margie Fernando with her expertise of home-care became a caring friend and confidant to my sister who was the sole caregiver until Mum's demise. Having to deal with the aftermath of a mother who has passed through this life is never easy for those left behind and during our time, Mrs Fernando went that extra mile which was a boon to us as a family. Ruhize and I would like to personally acknowledge all she did for us. ... Ruhize Haniffa and Sherin Davoodbhoy

Great Sadness - By Erica Bowen, Sydney, Australia

It was with great sadness that I learnt of the passing away of my dear friend and very talented dressmaker, Margie.

I first met Margie when I was in my teens sometime in the early fifties, when she lived at Albert PlaceDehiwela, Ceylon. Soon after she moved to Bambalapitiya and it was here that her clientele greatly increased as her reputation as a seamstress became renowned.

All of my clothes, whether casual, evening wear or a dress for a special occasion, were all tailored by Margie. Many an afternoon, which often turned into evening, was spent at Margie’s home with a cup of tea pouring over the innumerable fashion magazines, choosing styles for a special outfit. I clearly recall Margie’s creation for the first 31st Night dance I attended with my late husband. It was a yellow, nylon net, strapless dress that Margie had tailored to perfection and I felt great in it. It also must have impressed him because we were married for fifty two years.

Unfortunately, after I moved to Australia, Margie and I lost touch. However, I am happy to say that I have always had news of her from her daughter Wendy who has been, and still is, a very good friend of my daughter Rozelle.

I have very special memories of Margie, her Mum and her family; may her dear soul rest in peace.

Erica Bowen

Sydney, Australia