Learning to sew was an integral part of family life for most girls in the early years of our country. Making clothes, as well as piecing together quilts, was a necessity and a way of life.
Young girls were taught to sew by their mothers at an early age and the majority of early sewing was done by hand. Purchasing a ready-made dress was very rare in most homes.
When growing up in the 1950s, sewing was a significant part of my family life. My mother was an excellent seamstress. She had a treadle Singer sewing machine that was equipped with an electric motor. It was used to make most all of our clothes. From dresses for the girls, to shirts for the boys, even to ties for my dad — Mom made them all.
My sisters and I would often find an advertisement of an outfit and ask my mother if she would make us one like it. She would take several patterns which she already had and put them together to make a garment. It was amazing how closely her design resembled the expensive one in the ad.
Many hours were spent watching Mother sew and that is how I developed my own sewing skills.
Home economics in high school also helped with my sewing skills. If I asked the teacher for help, her first question would be, “Have you read your guide sheet?” If I answered “yes” to that question, the next one would be, “What did it say?” This way of making sure that I not only read the instructions but also understood them proved invaluable.
From that time on, I greatly enjoyed sewing and made most of my clothes as well as curtains, pillows and other home accessories. Thanks to that strict home economics teacher, a guide sheet was not encountered that could not be deciphered.
During the 1960s and 1970s, I made all of my clothes and did other sewing projects as well. Sewing clothes for my children saved our family a great deal of money.
Fabric shops usually had a bin with short lengths of material for a low price. From these pieces many adorable outfits were made for my daughter, as well as many little boy outfits that were nice-looking and age appropriate for the boys.
I strongly desired for my sewing to meet or match my mother’s standards. When I completed a suit for myself (which even had bound buttonholes) Mother bragged on the good job that was done. Because of her praise, the suit was worn more than any other garment.
Things changed in the 1980s and 1990s. Fewer stores carried sewing needs and fabric became much more expensive. More women began working outside the home which meant less time for sewing and crafts.
Many schools no longer offered home economic classes. If they did, the classes included both boys and girls and involved different activities. Sewing was no longer a priority.
Purchasing clothes became more economical so sewing went by the wayside in many cases.
Just as many families are going back to basics with gardening these days, there is a renewed interest in sewing. Google sewing and you will be surprised to find many sites for various sewing projects. There are tutorials to provide step-by-step instructions, which are probably easier than following a guide sheet.
Many young women are going back to sewing in order to make pillows, curtains and other accessories for the home. Young mothers are also involved in making costumes for their children.
Several churches and organizations offer sewing classes where women meet to share their skills. Homeschoolers are often taught sewing skills as part of their curriculum.
The new sewing machines which are available today make sewing so much easier. Many of them can be programmed to do monogramming and other skills that were only done by hand in years gone by.
Sewing no longer holds the place of importance in the home that it once did. But there is much to be said for choosing fabric and sewing unique creations to be worn or used in the home.
Bonnie Simmerman of Jonesborough is a retired elementary school teacher.