Saturday, January 10, 2009

My Sewing Backstory

Lindsay T raised this question the other day, and it got me to thinking about how I came to sewing. I had never thought my sewing story was anything special, but I enjoyed reading hers and some of the others that have appeared in Blogland as a result.

So here goes...

I come from a family of needleworkers. On my mother's side, Grandma liked to do needlepoint and crochet. While she was able to sew, she didn't like it much. Mom, on the other hand, was a sewing fanatic who took every sewing class offered in her high school. (Interestingly, the public schools in Louisville were segregated by gender as well as race in the 1940's, so she attended Girls' High. Its brother school, Male High, still exists and is now co-ed). Mom continued to sew after high school and made a bunch of her clothes for her work life as a secretary. Back then, styles were much more formal and she actually hand tailored a lot of her wardrobe!

On the other side of the family, my other Grandmother also sewed, mostly quilts. I didn't know her as well because she lived in Appalachia and Grandma lived close by. But she did a lot of quilting for pay, which a lot of the mountain women did.

As I mentioned in a previous post, my Uncle Bobby was also a big supporter of my sewing. He also did a little sewing, mostly home dec items like draperies and reupholstery.

Mom kept on sewing after marriage, making home dec items as well as clothes for herself and us kids. Her machine was a White that had a cabinet. It resided in the dining room of our home. She had purchased it with a small inheritance received from her aunt, so I imagine it was a TOL at the time. It only sewed straight stitch with reverse, but there was an extensive set of feet and a buttonhole attachment (those attachments make the best buttonholes, by the way). It was olive matte textured metal, and the styling was similar to the cars of the time, with chrome and everything. In short, a tank. Instead of a foot pedal, it had a lever that you controlled with your leg.

When I got to be about 11 or so, I started lobbying Mom to let me use that machine. Up to that point, I had made some little hand sewing and embroidery projects. Grandma started me at the age of 5 with those types of projects. But I wanted to sew "real clothes!" So OK, Mom said, but you have to take Home Ec so you know how to sew properly. Deal! Once I enrolled in the class, she showed me how to thread the White, gave basic instructions, and I was off to the races!

The 7th Grade Home Ec class, ugh! I know a lot of people remember Home Ec fondly. I'm not one of them. By the early 1970's, Home Ec was mainly a remedial type class for (mostly) delinquent girls. I stuck out Sewing and Cooking (also required by Mom), and then left formal Home Ec training behind me. Hoorah!! I think the only things I made in Sewing were a pillow and a poncho. Well, it was the 1970's .

Meanwhile, I was sewing all kinds of stuff at home. Jeans, pants, halter tops, babydoll tops, skirts, dresses etc. etc. I also did jeans modifications, such as converting straight legs to bell bottoms by adding a godet to each side seam. I learned to crochet around that time too, so added that to the mix. Although my parents didn't support RTW purchases, they were supportive of my fabric habit (clever parents!), and back then I think you really could save money by sewing. There was an independent neighborhood fabric store within walking distance, in addition to Kresge's Five and Ten Cent Store (predecessor to K-Mart). I also could take the bus to Stewart's Dry Goods Store downton if I wanted something special. Stewart's is long gone as the result of department store consolidation, but it was the fancy department store back then. They had a wonderful sewing department. Baer's, which succumbed last year, was also downtown and thus reachable via bus, but it was more the fancy place you went for ballet costume supplies, as well as fabric for formals. RIP to all of them.

I kept sewing all of the time through high school, making tons of clothes. I had no fear and would make just about anything. I still continued to sew in college, mostly during breaks because I didn't have a machine at school. I wish I'd had one! Vanderbilt was (and is) a wealthy school, and I could have made some cash doing sewing for the rich kids. Same thing in grad school at Florida, sewing during breaks.

My sewing took a break after graduation. However, Grandma gifted me a portable Singer on a visit home, so I started sewing a little bit with it. It's one of those classic black ones in the bentwood case. I haven't used it in years but it's a great machine. I should get it refurbished so I can play with it some more. I did acquire a Singer buttonholer that will fit it on an antiquing expedition a few years ago. Like I said, those attachments make the best buttonholes!!

My XH bought me my first "modern" machine 22 years ago when we were living in Melbourne, Florida. My first machine with zig zag capabilities! Plus many other bells and whistles. I gave it to my friend John a couple of years ago.

My sewing really took off after my divorce in the early 90's. I joined the ASG, got my own dedicated sewing room, discovered Ann Silva's, learned about sewing personalities, attended classes, and started gathering all kinds of sewing supplies. And of course, I learned that the internet was a fabulous sewing resource too. Once again, off to the races! It's difficult to fit sewing in, but I've learned it's important to make time for it--keeps me happy and sane.

8 comments:

Lindsay T said...

I really enjoyed reading this. It's interesting to see how those of us who are of a certain era have lives and experiences that overlap.

Vicki W said...

Very interesting! My Mom taught me and my brothers to sew and cook. She would not let me take Home Ec in High School because she knew that it would frustrate me by making me re-learn things. I don't know if that's really true but she was usually on the mark about such things!

BeeBee said...

Thank you for your story. This is a great thread around the 'net. I'll get mine done sometime today. Like Lindsay, it's interesting how similar so many of our stories are.

Carolyn (cmarie12) said...

As they've said before me, thanks for sharing your story. Its interesting learning a little of the backstory of everyone!

Raesha D said...

what a great post! it's so fun to learn all this about you!

phyllis said...

That's a great story Nancy; I related to every detail!

Sarah said...

I have a similar story up to a point... handwork at 7, machines at 10, but no Home Ec sewing... My middle school was too cool for that I guess...

I like your blog! I found you through SG, and your stash system seems like it'll work! I only have 2 sterilite tubs full, so I am gonna catalog before it gets bad.

Cennetta said...

Great backstory..., similar to mine coming from a family of needleworkers the sewing bug bite me. ;-)