Monday, March 17, 2014

I Owe It All To Miss Verla Brown

Dear readers, you have been so kind and complimentary as I've shared the recent posts relating to working on my new spring shower curtain.

Any talent I may have in the field of sewing or quilting, I owe to Miss Brown, my 8th grade sewing teacher.

Back in those (ancient) days, we girls didn't have a choice.  One semester of sewing was mandatory.  Beyond that, we did get to make it an elective.  We could take more sewing classes if we wanted.  I loved sewing and took as much of it as I could.

(Short rant insertion:  I know sewing and/or cooking classes are not even offered in most middle or high schools these days.  My, my, how much our educational system has lost.  The push seems to be single-mindedly toward preparing all students for college.  Never mind teaching common sense, down-home, practical skills that will benefit a person for a lifetime.  Grumpf.)

Miss (this was way before the introduction of the politically correct label of "Ms.") Brown was a regal lady somewhere in her 50s, nicely, although amply, shaped.  Sturdy.  Stout.  Hefty.  (Let's just say she was no lightweight.)  She was an excellent seamstress and made all of her own clothing.  Most often she was dressed in a tailored suit, jacket and skirt, worn with a pretty blouse.  Her dark hair (with the help of a little dye, I'm certain) was elegantly coiffed, her make-up was heavy but tastefully applied and her long fingernails always manicured with polish to match her outfit.

She was a perfectionist . . . which might not have been the best personality trait considering she was attempting to pique young girls' interest in learning how to sew. 

She insisted on checking every single step of our sewing attempts, and if the job we did didn't pass muster, we had to rip it out and do it again.  And again.  

Many of my classmates hated sewing because they could "never get it right" and labeled Miss Brown as "way too picky."  Not that she was ever mean or unpleasant.  She simply wanted us to learn the basics of sewing and the correct way in which to do them.

With all that I absorbed under her two years of instruction, I was able to make all of my own clothes up to and through the years I was out in the working world.  I also made dress shirts for my husband, then clothes for my daughter and various parkas, ponchos, jackets, and even bug screen liners for tents and beds.

When I first tried my hand at quilting, it came easily for me because of my strong sewing background.  To be successful at quilting, you must be accurate whether it is in understanding how to prep fabric, cut it, or sew precise seams and small pieces of fabric together.

I know there are seamstresses who are self-taught, and it's possible to learn to quilt without having had any previous sewing experience.  But I feel sure I wouldn't have had my lifelong interest in sewing and whatever skill I may have if it wasn't for the one-on-one instruction I got from Miss Brown at such an early age.  Because I was fortunate enough to have her as my first sewing teacher, I obtained a thorough and sound foundation in sewing, and it's certainly helped great heaps and bunches in making me as good a quilter as I might be.

Thanks, Miss Brown.  I hope somehow, some way you know you taught me a life-long skill for which I'm very grateful.

35 comments:

DFW said...

What a nice tribute to your sewing mentor!

Carolyn said...

I'm sure that Miss Brown (wherever she is, or may be) would be honored by your tribute :)
I wish WE had a Miss Brown in school. Or maybe we did, and I didn't know about her? Honestly, I'm not sure if our high school even taught home ec. Hmmm.

Mama Pea said...

DFW - Thank you! If only I had been wise enough as a young adult to seek her out and tell her personally how grateful I was to her. I know she is long gone from this earth by now as taking classes from her was -- oh, my -- almost 60 years ago!

Mama Pea said...

Carolyn - They probably had already dropped "Home Ec" from the curriculum when you were in junior high/high school. These days I don't even think they offer wood working or an automotive repair class for the boys . . . or girls if they were interested.

When I was in high school, they still had classes that taught drafting. You know, no computers then so it was pen and paper and rulers on those neat slanted tables. I wanted to take drafting SO BAD but I wasn't allowed to because it was only for boys. Arrrrgh.

Anonymous said...

HI SIS,
YOU MIGHT BE GLAD TO HEAR THAT OUR OLD SCHOOL DISTRICT STILL HAS ONE SEMESTER OF SEWING AND ONE OF COOKING AT THE JR. HIGH LEVEL. UNFORTUNATELY ALL THE SHOP CLASSES HAVE BEEN DROPPED TO MAKE ROOM FOR COMPUTER AND TECH CLASSES. ALL STUDENTS, MALE AND FEMALE, NOW TAKE THE SEWING AND COOKING CLASSES.

Sandy said...

Mama Pea,

What a great tribute to Miss Brown.
I remember learning all kinds of things in home ec class. The kids in school today need to learn skills to get live by. We should bring back home ec, mechanics, woodworking shop,welding and leather working. With the cost of having a degree, not all kids can afford to go to college.

Sarah said...

My mom & I were just talking about the fact that "home ec" isn't taught much anymore and what a shame it is. My sister & I both own sewing machines that we have NO idea how to use (we're hoping to sign up for classes soon!). There are so many skills I wish I had learned growing up. Guess I just need to learn them now!

Sparkless said...

I remember learning to sew in school too and learned to do embroidery. Our teacher was a mean old bag though who never smiled and kind of reminded me of a chicken. She retired shortly after we had her so she must have been fairly burnt out on teaching and thus her icy demeanor. I did have a couple of teachers who were as inspirational as your Mrs Brown though.

Sue said...

Sweet memories. Gosh, I wish they still had teachers that cared like that. And parents, too!!---while we're on a roll-haha.

I envy your talent in sewing. I do think some people are born sewers--they just love it. I would love to love sewing--I can never find shirts in patterns I like.It would be great to go to a fabric warehouse and pore over all those gorgeous fabrics and know I could make something out of it. I'm an odd duck--I LOVE fabrics, just don't love sewing. There's no hope for me-LO!L

Ilene Jones said...

I had what was called "Home Economics" in high school in the 1960's. Our teacher was young, fresh out of college, not much older than we were. I can't say that I got much useful cooking training because of the strange dishes she had us prepare (toast points with white sauce, garnished with grated hard-boiled egg yolks??), but I was exposed enough to sewing skills that I was able to start making my own clothes, even though one dress I had, a friend pulled a thread while I was wearing it and a dart fell out! LOL!

My mother made quilts and though she never had the patience to teach me much of anything, I picked up a lot of information without realizing it by just being present during the process.

When my daughter had what they called "Life Skills", she learned to compare prices. That was a worthwhile skill and one that has been helpful to her. She never learned to sew and never seemed to have any interest in it. But she loved to cook and still does.

I'm like you, I don't like to see classes like this go away. I guess there's so much more they have to know to be prepared for college but it seems like kids come out of high school nowadays not knowing proper English, not knowing how to spell, not knowing much about geography, not being able to do math in their heads, and I wonder if they are really getting taught much of anything. If I had a choice, I'd opt for living skill classes. Not everyone gets to go to college. But everyone has to buy groceries, and those that don't know how to cook have to pay more for already-prepared food at the store.

Kristina said...

I loved Home Ec (what we called the class) and I think because of it I love to cook and bake. Our school does have culinary class but not a complete Home Economics class. However, they don't offer it unless a student asks for it.

Lisa said...

What a lovely tribute to Miss Brown. I so wish I'd taken Home Ec in school. In the early 1970s, in the 'Rocket City' of northern Alabama where space exploration was thriving and engineering positions were what ran the local economy, Home Ec was not required as schools were already pushing the math and sciences and strongly encouraging the girls for a 'career' outside the home. Strong in the maths, I never took one single domestic arts-type class. I think that's one reason why I so enjoyed when my girls were in 4-H and I was their leader, so I could participate in their 'sewing classes' and 'cooking classes' led by our local 'Home Economist' at the time. Interesting though, that since then, the early 2000's, that position is not called a 'Home Economist' anymore; they are now called 'Food Safety and Nutrition Agent'.

Anonymous said...

Great commentary. When I went to HS, they required all of us young ladies to take sewing, cooking AND bookkeeping! Thank God for all three! I excelled in cooking and bookkeeping but not so much in sewing. I remember the time when my home ec teacher was so frustrated with me sewing my skirt's hem to the waistband-ha! Recently, I found out that my old high school has cut back on teaching basic life skills. The cooking class, for instance, has been reduced to teaching students how to warm up a frozen dinner in the microwave and how to correctly boil a plastic food pouch in water. So, so sad.-M

Susan said...

I loved Home Economics, although I wanted to take shop, too, but was told, "NO GIRLS". Needless to say, I crashed the course whenever I could get away with it. I did well with cooking, but was too impatient to be a good seamstress. I refused to baste, feeling that it was redundant. However, had I been taught by your Miss Brown, it may have turned out differently. I did make a wool, fitted jacket and did all the buttonholes by hand. I worry that the kids that graduate from high school are pretty much helpless, when it comes to being self-sufficient. But, since none of them seem to be moving out of their parents' homes, I guess it isn't the end of the world. :)

Mama Pea said...

Hi, Bro - Three cheers for our grand old school district! It is great that schools offering sewing/cooking classes include the guys. I know there is limited classroom space and money for teaching staff in all schools, but what a shame the shop classes have been dropped. Learning those skills was such a great way to enable kids not academically inclined to enter the work force with a skill. (Or do carpentry type repairs around home or have a rudimentary knowledge of how a vehicle runs.)

Mama Pea said...

Sandy - It all goes along with folks giving over responsibilities to others and lacking SELF-responsibility, I think. We can hire anyone to do anything for us (IF we can find a high-paying job, that is). The way our economy is going and so many people having real trouble making ends meet, knowing how to do some of those skills to sustain yourself and your family may be needed.

Mama Pea said...

Sarah - Yes, yes, yes! Grab your sister's hand and get thee to a basic sewing class! It will prove to be worth it. My sister-in-law made all her two boys' t-shirts when they were growing up and that alone must have saved oodles of moola!

Mama Pea said...

Sparkless -Embroidery! Wow, I don't ever remember hearing anyone say they were taught embroidery in school. Cool!

Mama Pea said...

Sue (alias the odd duck) - Ever thought of taking a sewing class? It's never too late, my friend!

Mama Pea said...

Ilene - Very well said! I vaguely remember taking some kind of a "life's skill" class as a senior in high school, but do you know, I can't remember one single thing we discussed or that I learned. (Hmmmmm, this may need further analyzing.)

Mama Pea said...

Kristina - I find it fascinating the way different school districts require some classes and others don't. Glad you had the Home Ec classes to take.

Mama Pea said...

Lisa - Forgive me but I had to laugh at the label "Food Safety and Nutrition Agent." But then, maybe that's what we need these days . . . certainly food safety . . . but what the heck is a nutrition agent! ;o}

Mama Pea said...

M - In high school I could have taken bookkeeping as an elective, but didn't because I've always had a brain block when it comes to working with numbers. (Darn good reason right there why I SHOULD have taken the class!)

I simply cannot believe (well, I can but that makes me too sad) they have a cooking class that teaches students how to use a microwave and boil food in a plastic bag. Someone please save me from this insane nonsense!

Mama Pea said...

Susan - You are always good for a laugh . . . even though in this case, the truism regarding kids leaving school these days and then staying at home with their parents is so not the right way for things to be. :o/

Lisa said...

Have no idea what a 'nutrition agent' is here either! Interesting there is no note to 'home' anything nor connection to sewing or running a home in any way. Your post concluded with your gratefulness for learning a 'life-long' skill. Where are our young people learning those skills today?

Linda said...

God bless Miss Brown.

Mama Pea said...

Linda - Amen! :o)

Jenyfer Matthews said...

The middle school my daughter attended did actually offer "Life Managment" (their equivalent to Home Ec) and also wood-working. My daughter took woodworking :)

I agree that kids need to learn basic cooking / sewing skills as much as if not MORE than they need to learn advanced math. I know I certainly use my cooking and sewing skills much more than I use any abstract math skills I learned in high school!

Doing my best to teach some cooking skills. No one seems interested in sewing. And though my mother did a lot of sewing when I was a tiny child she'd stopped by the time I was old enough to learn. I taught myself most of what I know now - I took Home Ec but my teacher didn't make an impression the same way yours did - at least not for the same reasons!!!

Anonymous said...

What a wonderful testament your skills are to her teaching :)

judy said...

your shower curtain turned out beautiful and looks like it was professionally done .I don't doubt everything you do looks that way,your ay over my head .My son once mad a gun case and went in the school art/sewing class show .i liked to sew ,but I was never a made to sew "kind of woman.my best asset was said to be caring for babies ,my own or anyone's ,they just came to me like a magnet .i never quit got it.i would love to work in a hospital nursery and just rock babies to sleep.

Mama Pea said...

Jen - You're the kind of parent who will send your children out into the world with a good set of basic skills. Even if they never develop an interest in sewing, making them learn how to sew on a button or mend a tear is worth it. You know they'll thank you for it!

Mama Pea said...

Stephanie - Thank you! That's why I hope she knows how much I appreciate what she taught me.

Mama Pea said...

judy - Thank you for your kind words.

Maybe someday you'll be in a position where you can take that nurturing talent of yours into a hospital nursery and use it. I do know of places where they need "grandmothers" to sit in a rocker in a nursery and give some loving to little ones.

Tombstone Livestock said...

My high school must have been a little more progressive than yours, I got to take drafting, fun being the only gril in the class eventually there were three of us, I took all 4 years. I think basic skills classes need to be offered to those that want them, after all someone needs to jobs like janitors and some are happy with it, not everyone is cut out to be an engineer or a doctor or dentist. Basic skills last a life time ......... diagraming a sentence is something I never used out of schooll.

Mama Pea said...

Tombstone Livestock - Lucky you! There's even a lot of talk today about a college degree not meaning nearly the same as it did years ago. We all know college graduates who haven't been able to find a "good" paying job for years after leaving school! And today it costs so much to go to school that these same kids have big loans to pay off. It's a real dilemma.