Saturday, April 9, 2011

So Lucky To Learn

I am very lucky to have a skill that I value very much. It's one that I frequently take for granted because I use it so often. When I was young, I was given excellent instruction in the art of learning how to sew.

When I was in seventh grade, all the girls were required to take a sewing class. In that class I made an apron complete with a pocket and rickrack trim, and really enjoyed the experience. My recollection of that long-ago first sewing teacher is that she was tall, thin, blonde, 50-something and seemed very tired. (Whether the cause of that was too many classrooms of silly, giggling girls over the years or something else in her life, I don't know.) I can't recall her name. Mrs. L-something. Livingston? Langley? Nope, I just can't bring it back to mind. But her class was my introduction to sewing and I liked it from the get-go.

My mom did a certain amount of sewing, but more alterations for herself than projects from scratch. She had a totally Rubenesque figure, large bust and hips but small waist which made it difficult to purchase clothes that fit. She didn't have much to do with my sewing education but there was a sewing machine at home and it was always available to me.

In eighth grade, I once again found myself in a sewing class. This time I had an excellent teacher. Not all the girls liked Miss Brown as I did probably because she was extremely fussy and if one stitch was out of place, you had to rip it out and do it over. If you think of the fact that not every girl in the class even liked sewing, it's no wonder Miss Brown's way of teaching wasn't well received by all.

Miss Verla Brown was what would probably have been labeled an "old maid" way back in the late 1950s. Her dress was very professional (as was that of all teachers then), her make-up applied perfectly and her long nails always painted with dark polish. She must have colored her hair at home because it was dark chocolate brown. Solid dark chocolate brown. No highlights or a hint of a gray hair anywhere. She was a stoutly built woman and I can still picture her standing during the first part of each class giving an overview of what we would be working on that day and the techniques involved. Then we would all disperse to our machines and she would settle herself in a chair at one of the long tables in the sewing classroom and rarely move from that spot for the rest of the period. We were each required to bring finished steps in our sewing to her to be checked before we were allowed to proceed.

Her teaching method was demanding but, boy-howdy, did I ever learn the "correct" way to do all the basics! From eighth grade on for about the next seventeen years I made all my own clothes except for jeans and sweaters.

I even made dress shirts for my husband for a while. What a lot of work when at that time I probably could have purchased them ready-made for about the same amount of money. (And just think of all the time required to hand sew on just the buttons! Button-down collar, cuffs and all the way down the front.) I made all of our daughter's clothes until she reached an age when she wanted "store bought" clothes like her friends.

At certain times, I've done alterations for some extra money, but that wasn't my wisest job choice as I'm such a perfectionist that I spent way too much time on a job compared to what I charged.

I made a beautiful polar fleece parka for one of my daughter's ex-boyfriends. (How did I get talked into that? And should he have returned the parka when they broke up??)

Just having a general knowledge of sewing how-to has come in so handy over the years with countless mending jobs. I've worked on everything from tents to patching jeans (LOTS of patching on jeans) to mosquito netting for over beds to putting zippers in hand-knit sweaters. My dear daughter has fallen into the habit of bringing me a sewing job and saying, "I think I could do this, Mom, but I know it would be so much faster and easier for you to do it." That's okay; makes me feel needed.

Learning to quilt was simple for me because of my strong sewing background. I so well remember a gal in the first quilt group I joined. She truly wanted to learn how to quilt but had never sewn before, not even to take needle and thread and sew on a button. Needless to say, she quickly became very discouraged and dropped out of the group even though we all encouraged and tried to help her. I think that was when I first realized that knowing how to sew was a skill I was grateful to have.

Knowing how to sew. A basic life skill? It sure qualifies as that in my book. If you know how to sew, be open and willing to teach your children, or anyone who expresses an interest, the basics. If they become hooked, support them as much as you can. I did my very first sewing on my grandma's old treadle machine. If you have access to one for someone to learn on, there's hardly anything that would be better.

Yup, I was very lucky to have had a couple of good sewing teachers that came along at just the right time in my life, and I can't imagine not having the knowledge I gained from them. Thanks especially to Miss Brown who was such an exacting, ol' fuss-budget. I got a solid foundation from her that has stood me well.


Sparkless said...

I really should be able to sew better than I can because my mom was an avid sewer and sewed all our clothes when we were little. Quite the feat when you consider she had four kids.
I took sewing in school of course cause back then if you were a girl that's what you had to take. I also took a sewing class at a ladies house. We sewed a blouse.
If I had space to set up my machine and leave it set up I'd sew more often. It is definately a valuable life skill.

Dirt Lover said...

I agree! Definitely a good life skill to have. My mom taught my sister and I how to sew. (I was lucky enough to take shop class in high school instead of home ec.) Mother taught us how to cook, too, for that matter. She was very good at both. I'm better at quilts than clothes. My sister is flat out amazing at anything tailored, smocked, or otherwise made from expensive fabrics. She made all her bridesmaid dresses, and both hers and my wedding dresses. Amazing.

Anonymous said...

I love the fact I can sew also, tho I am by no means a perfectionist. I was taught to sew by my mom, in our 4-H group. It is becoming a lost art, and I am embarrassed to admit that I have not taught the skill to my daughters. I don't have the patience, so I've encouraged them to find a class for adults, to just learn the basics...

Jane @ Hard Work Homestead said...

Well you said it, a good teacher makes all the difference. I had a 3 month sewing course in 5th grade. Everyone had to make cookie cutter shorts that didn't fit anyone. Since it was mandatory for boys and girls, she just made sure no one sewed a finger. I sure wish I had a good teacher.

Mama Pea said...

Sparkless - That is SO important . . . having a space/place where you can leave your machine set up. Otherwise, it's just too much trouble to set everything up, and then have to put it all away an hour later usually so you can put a meal on the table!

Lori - Wow, your sister sounds like quite the expert! How fantastic that she made her and your wedding dress. Not just for the sentimentality involved but also financial savings. I know exactly what you mean about quilts . . . not much "fitting" involved! ;o}

Ruth - Don't feel badly about not teaching your daughters. Since you know you don't/didn't have the patience, it wouldn't have been a good experience for them. As adults, if they're motivated enough, there are lots of classes out there. Good idea to suggest that to them.

Jane - You made me smile with your "cookie cutter shorts that didn't fit anyone." Yeah, like why did the school system even bother? Good thing you're talented enough to teach yourself how to do anything. You can sew DESPITE having had to take that class!

Erin said...

What a great post! I too, had sewing in 7th grade and I picked it as a 4-H project, but I wasn't interested back then. It's a shame, too, since my mom would have been the perfect instructor had I been willing. She has made everything from her own wedding dress to quilts to a VW convertible roof! There were sewing machines in abundance between her and my grandma but I was just a stupid teenager with better things to do with my time :) Of course, if you ask her, she would say she's not very good, HA! And she has limitless patience, too. Regrets, regrets... if I lived nearby I would be at either her house or yours until you got so sick of me you would lock the doors, I'm in LOVE with sewing, now, even though I'm such a beginner. Thanks for sharing your love and how it came about! Now I'm off to finish my first garment for myself, a simple wrap skirt :)

Mama Pea said...

Erin - Oh, let's not even talk about being a stupid teenager and what we wish we had done or learned then . . . when we had the time to do them!!

You're a lot like Jane. When you want to do something, you teach yourself and everybody else better get out of the way! ;o}

You have no idea how often I think about you when I'm quilting. There are so many "little tricks" that I want to share with you that make the process so much easier and more satisfying. Some day???

Methinks we're in for a blog post of yours on your new wrap skirt? I hope, I hope, I hope!

Erin said...

I hope to post it soon! Problem is, I only got the cutting done yesterday when it was cold and dreary (45), but today it's supposed to be in the 60's so I will be working outside. My stuff is strewn about, LOL, so hopefully by tomorrow evening I'll get it done!

Mama Pea said...

'Sokay, Erin, m'dear. Ya gotta make hay while the sun shines. We'll all be here when you get time to sew . . . and post!

Jenyfer Matthews said...

I remember taking Home Ec in high school. We got to pick a pattern and fabric for our project during the sewing section. I make a long full skirt with two big square pockets and a zipper. It didn't come out too badly, but it was a long time before I made anything else. I've never been so interested in making clothes, so I taught myself to quilt instead :)

Sewing is a basic skill. I can't believe how many people I know who say they don't know how to sew on buttons. Or who expect me to mend THEIR clothes just because I happen to own a sewing machine!!!

Mama Pea said...

Jen - It's funny but when sewing (like clothing) things in the last couple of years, I've realized I'm not that enthused about it anymore either. I'd rather be quilting!

Regarding other people bringing their mending/sewing to you, it's just more of an indication that most people have become so very dependent on others to do ANYTHING that we can no know how to take care of ourselves. Literally. :o{

mtnchild said...

Oh Mama Pea did you ever bring all the school sewing classes to the forefront!! In 7th grade, the first thing we made was a gym bag to haul our gym clothes back and forth on Monday and Friday.
I went on to make a simple gathered skirt. Problem was that mine was a border print and that was NOT what the teacher ordered. Got 'er done - waistband and zipper included!
I went on to make a blouse in the next years class, but I was always looking for short cuts and the teacher told me that I don't need any more sewing classes since I couldn't follow directions as written. Instead of setting in sleeves in the armhole, I attached the sleeve and sewed the sleeve seam and the blouse side seam all in one. I still do that, and it really keeps me from getting super frustrated.
My Mom could barely sew a straight seam and didn't care for sewing so the machine she had bought served me well for 25 years - an old purple Morse! It was stolen many years ago, but it was one of the few things that made me cry when the theft was discovered (the other was heirloom jewelry from my Grandmother).
I taught my daughter to sew while I was making most of her clothes. She also finally asked for "store bought" when she started 1st grade.
Oh the memories, the memories.
Sorry this is so long, but as you can tell, I too have great memories of learning and continuing to sew.
Many thankful hugs

Unknown said...

When I was in 7th grade *everyone* - boys and girls alike - had to take "sampler" classes of all the home ec and shop courses, so that we could choose which ones we wanted to take in 8th grade. In our sewing class we were all taught basics like needle-threading and how to sew on a button, and basics of machine sewing. Then we all made novelty pillows. You could choose one of the teacher's patterns or design one of your own, with the teacher's approval. Being the SF/Fantasy Geek that I am, I designed a pillow that was my interpretation of what a Horse Lord of Rohan might have carried as a shield, complete with a strap in the middle of the back.

Incidentally, in 8th grade I took metals and woodworking as my electives. I figured I could always learn cooking and sewing from my Mom. So while I do sew, we can see that my propensity for working in metal started fairly early!

Mama Pea said...

Yvette - So much fun to read your "story." Don't you know creative people don't follow directions? :o} I've put the sleeves in a garment many times the way you describe! Glad my blog gave you the urge to stroll down memory lane.

Alison - Tell me you kept that pillow you designed and made! What a treasure that would be to have now. I envy you having been able to take metals and woodworking. When I was that age (back in the Dark Ages) I wanted desperately to take Drafting (that's when they did it on a drafting table with pencil and paper) but was told it was "for boys only." Grrumpf.