Sunday, July 11, 2010

sewing lesson

Back at the country house with the youngest g'girl for her week. Robin, 9, wants to learn how to sew so we went out and got a pattern and she picked out some fabric to make a top and some shorts.

It's been a very long time since I did any sewing, much less made any clothes. I made a lot of my clothes when I was in high school and college (1965 – 1971, that would make me 15 - 21). Wild colorful prints with long fringe, blousey sleeves with 6” cuffs, mini-skirts. I made my prom dress, a swirl of blue, purple and orange floor length voile with an empire waist and long flowing sleeves, very 'out there' for the times. I even made my wedding dress the first time around.

I not only made this one, I wore it...out in public...more than once. It barely covered my ass. I might have been wearing this one or another one just as short with my long hair walking to art class one day when I heard a crash behind me. A guy had rear ended the car in front of him. I turned to see and another student, male, was walking toward me and as he passed me he says...'that's your fault, you know.'

I learned to sew when I was about 9 or 10. My mother had a sewing machine and she made a lot of my and my sister's clothes when we were small. I know she made our Easter dresses for many years and I always wanted mine to be just like my big sister's and our mother would make us matching dresses. It used to make my sister so mad because the last thing she wanted was to be wearing matching dresses with her little sister. She was three years older than me. One summer I decided to make some clothes for my Barbie doll. I rummaged around in my mother's scrap drawer and set about to fashion these clothes. One of the things I made was a felt coat with sleeves. Set-in sleeves. My mother was pretty impressed with that.

In junior high school back in those days all the girls had to take homemaking which consisted of a semester of sewing and a semester of cooking. By the time I was required to take it, somewhere around 13, I already knew how to sew, had already made some simple skirts and things. I ended up helping a lot of the other girls and threaded a lot of the machines.

These three are the only items I have left of all the clothes I made in that 5 year period. I didn't give up sewing altogether til after both kids were born. Well, that's not entirely true. When they were small, I would buy their clothes at Weiner's department store and then sit down and re-stitch the major seams or else they would start to fall apart after a few washings and I made all our costumes for the Renaissance Festival and I made the kids Halloween costumes til they were out of junior high themselves. Bunny suits, clown suits, tree suits, big bird, superman, vampire, witch doctor, barrel of toxic waste. barrel of toxic waste? Yeah, one of my better efforts.


I haven't even had a sewing machine for at least 10 years. I have always had one of my own since I was 15 even if I didn't use it. My sister has had mine all this time. Hers broke down so mine went on permanent loan. I finally got it back after she bought a new one and mine's been cleaned and oiled. It took me a while to remember how to thread it.

I've got Robin practicing sewing in a straight line. She doing pretty well so she is working on her first project which is a lined bag with a shoulder strap. I'm doing the starts and stops for her since reverse on this machine is a pain even for me, but she's doing all the other sewing. Oops, well, the little minx just did it herself.

I still love going in fabric stores. I could spend hours in one just looking at all those bolts of cloth...cottons, linens, voiles, brocades, velvets, flannels, batiks...running my hands over them. When I was young though, I was sensitive to the sizing they would put in the fabrics and by the time I left my eyes, nose and throat would be burning. It didn't stop me from looking at every single bolt of cloth in the store though.


  1. Thank you Ellen this bought back so many memories - we were 3 girls (1 brother) and my mother made all of our clothes when we were small -the boy got shop bought stuff! I think she got job lots on the material because we all wore the same and your right as the eldest I hated wearing the same as my younger sisters! We would make all of dolls clothes fromthe scraps - by the time we were in our teens we made all our own dresses, long flowing things were all the rage then.

    When my own children were small I started making them costumes for dress-up and that led to me running my own little cottage industry for about 5 years. I could never believe how impractical some people where when it came to sewing!

    Now I just quilt - a luxury really considering I buy material just to quilt with and not quilt with left over scraps.

  2. I love looking a fabric too and my collection of material is...well...large!!! Ha! Loved the pics of your dresses!! That one with the fringe is something else...are you sure that is a dress? Ha!

  3. I love, love, love to sew. I have three machines but they haven't seen the light of day in over a year. Sigh - I miss it. :)

    You crack me up - first with the accident [That was your fault y'know] Too funny and the toxic waste costume - priceless. If you have a pic of it can you share?

    I made all my kids costumes too [still do] and my niece's [she was born on Halloween] and probably my best one was an I Dream of Genie costume for her 16th birthday.

    Have a great day with the grands!SkippyMom

  4. Your post made me think back to all the sewing I used to do. My mother sewed like a tailor and my efforts were sad in comparison. I was actually quite relieved the day I decided to stop making some of my and my daughters' clothes - although I did make a few things I was quite proud of.

  5. I learned to sew a little at my aunt Esther's farm in Oklahoma. I would go to stay a week every summer. My only farm experience ever and I am so glad of it. I also took Home Ec and learned a little more there. I made a straight dress with a separate stand up collar. The only real sewing I ever did was when I was pregnant with my son in 1970. I made several coordinating tops and two pairs of elastic waist pants. It would be fun to have a machine again. They make such nice ones now that are fairly inexpensive. Enjoyed your post. I can see you in that fringed dress with your long hair.

  6. What an artform! Fashion can be such an expression of ourselves anyways, but to take it a step further and make the clothes yourself is truly an art. Loved looking at your flashback styles here!

  7. You know, I'm short, but I'm pretty sure that first "dress" wouldn't even make it past my hips, much less cover all the pertinant parts :)

    I never learned to sew. When I was in Zambia a friend decided to help me out & we worked on some shorts sets (I'm wearing one in the bottom picture of this post : I would venture to say that those were some pretty poorly sewn garments!

    Then about 15 years ago I took an upholstery class at the local community school. I was terrible at sewing in that class too. I apparently don't DO straight lines!

  8. You are one talented lady, Ellen. I think there is nothing you can't do! I remember Home Ec - but all I remember making is one perfect cake that went directly to the Teacher's Lounge, and one not-so-perfect apron.

    Loved the story of the dress and the car crash, LOL! We did wear 'em short, didn't we!

  9. thanks Ellen it did bring back so many memories for me too. I made a daisy mini skirt that I swear the patten black hipster belt was wider than the skirt ...well almost anyway... love your stories. My grandmother made us girls (4) our may-day dresses and they would be our good dresses for the year.. they were made from the same bolt of cloth but all different patterns... I am the middle girl and I loved those dresses all of them... thanks again

  10. Sewing is one of those skills I just never learned. In reading this, I realized that I can't remember my mother ever teaching me anything--as in, this is how you do this--ever, though surely she must have, at least once. With her, everything had to be perfect, that is to say, done the way she would do it. She had no patience for a child who would make mistakes. Then when I got to be college-age, and didn't know how to do anything practical, she acted all shocked and would go, "how can you not know that?!" It's a mystery, Mom.

    And so, whenever you talk about doing things with your g'girls and stuff, I think, good for Ellen. :-)

  11. You are so talented! Anything you put your hands on comes out so beautifully.

    Love the mini dress. Ah those were the days!

  12. Oh my, that first dress is a dress in name only! Good for you, and how wonderfully daring. It's rather like a top with ambitions of dressdom but what a fun story. You stopped traffic, Ellen, and then some!

    I can't sew personally, but it is something I admire in other people because it isn't as I failed to ever try. I just wasn't any good at it.

    Do you know, my son took home economics in high school, sewing and cooking. The class was filled with boys, as the girls were all opting to take shop. Maybe in the years to come, he'll teach some young boy or girl how to hem something. Heck, I really ought to get him to teach me.

    I like that you aren't just teaching her a skill though. If she stays with it, throughout her life, people will ask her who taught her how to sew and you'll be the answer. You'll be part of a lifelong memory, regardless of whether or not she sticks with it.

    Making more than shorts and a top :-)

  13. I never learned to make anything, I had 'needlework' lessons very early on but then gave up to go into the academic stream. I regret that I can't make clothes or knit jumpers or do quilting, but I also don't feel like taking it up now.

    Those fantastic 60s-70s dresses you made could be worn now by a young woman. I loved the fashions then, I too wore micro minis, with a maxi length coat over the top.

  14. Oh I love the little pink and purple frock the best- to be able to wear FUN again would be delightful! Love this post- I taught myself how to sew when i was 23- got so carried away I opened my own boutique- but now I NEVER sew and have a machine that is far too complex for me sew...

  15. Ellen, you really wrote about something important here, for women of our age bracket especially I think. I sewed a lot too, for myself, and my daughter. I sewed Barbie clothes, for my Barbies and for Lesley's. Once I copied several outfits of Princess Diana's. I look forward to making doll clothes for grandkids one day. I still have the old black Singer my dad got me when I was in high school. I treasure it, partly because it gets through the thickest denim French seams (not that I make those) like no new machine can.

    When I quilted, my favorite part was picking the fabrics and designing the patterns. Once I'd made one square, I lost interest in the whole quilt, but I did finish a few.

    How wonderful that you still have those three garments. And what a great story about the accident, caused by your short-short dress on you!

  16. Oh, this post brings back great memories. I made most of my clothes from about 1972-1977. I even made bound buttonholes! It was so much fun choosing a pattern and fabric. I'm not sure I could still thread a sewing machine!

  17. Hi Ellen, I love your style!

    I remember those days of taking sewing lessons in Home Ec. The first thing I made was a red & black skirt with miles of yardage in about 1959-60. There was a lady down the street from me that made all my clothes until I was in high school. Lots of pretty Sunday dresses.

    In college I bought my clothes which were stylish in 1964-64.
    But by 1969-70 I was sewing again. Things were pretty short, but just long enough to wear when I was teaching. I don't have anything from way back when...

  18. This post made me think back...that's the same time period when I was sewing...making my own clothes...prom dress...I still have the wedding dress...doesn't fit anymore though...wonder why we stop sewing???

  19. Love those vintage styles. In high school, I refused to take Home-Ec. and took Industrial Arts, instead! Later, in college, I taught myself to sew, and made quite a few outfits, but after my children were born, that part of my brain that used to sew, ceased to function!

  20. Lots of good memories here, especially with the pictures of the dresses you made. Your girls will love the experience.

  21. Multi-talented you. You had good taste in colours and style. I quite like that first dress and the second one reminds me of ones that I wore. I never did get the sewing thing down pat so I quite admire those who can manage it. Good for you for teaching this art to another generation.


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