Friday, May 12, 2006

Learning to sew - Mother's Day

I learned to sew primarily by osmosis. My mom did a lot of sewing when I was little. That's her and me in Washington when I was 7. Dig those legs! She sewed because of necessity. She was a working woman, not so normal in the early 60s, but she also had four daughters. All of them needed clothes on a budget. Often, my older sisters would get the grooviest clothing made and I would get it second hand. I was always on the run as a kid and didn't really care about those things anyway. The sewing machine did fascinate me though. I learned to use it while she was at work. I wasn't supposed to use it, but I did. I had Troll dolls (remember those?) and I used to make clothes for them - simple things with seams at the shoudler and sides. But I learned to make seams. I would watch my mom sew and see her do fancier things, but I stuck with the simple things that I could handle. She made clothes for Barbie. Those teeny tiny clothes. She made clothes for us kids. She made crocheted afghans, and of course, I wanted to learn that too.
We had doilies around the house that she had made or that my grossmama had made, and I learned to make them too. My biggest project was to make a tablecloth. I planned it and worked on it for years, but never finished it. This was crochet with thread, not yarn, so it was long, tedious, and kept me occupied like nothing ever before. I gave up crochet later, but still, from time to time, crochet 2" strips of fabric.
Somewhere in there, she did cross stitching. Not the counted cross stitch of today, but printed cross stitch patterns. I did those a lot. I graduated to embroidery after seeing my older sister's work. I learned that on my own, but the roots were in the embroidery and cross stitch I did with my mom. I've never done counted cross stitching or machine embroidery.
I always come back to the fabric though. When my mom died, I got the famed button box, the box we kids would sit on the floor and rummage through, sorting, remembering what garment they came off of or were put onto, and in general, make a mess with. I used several of those buttons on my own daughter's clothing when she was little.
When my first son was born, I decided to tackle sewing. It was time. I learned from Simplicity patterns and from my Reader's Digest sewing book. I made overalls and graduated to shirts with front buttons and collars. I made a few things for myself and learned about binding armholes from a friend. My younger sister got pregnant, and I threw myself into making several maternity tops for her, some with zippers. I made my son a pair of slacks with a fly closure (never again). I learned how to mend knees and legs of jeans from my mother-in-law. I took a short sewing seminar from Clotilde locally. I started getting Work Basket magazine. I tried cutwork, patchwork, strip piecing, playing with color and texture, and then decided it was time to make a quilt. I made a quilt for my older son using graph paper to draft a design out of squares and triangles that looked like a firetruck. I used only old, recycled fabrics, a blanket for the batting, and some leftover home dec fabric for the back. It's 27 years old and still with us, though in dire need of mending.
Long story short, my sewing roots go back to my mother. I watched her do it and I wanted to do it too. I don't have specific memories of her "teaching" me how to sew, but it had to have been her, whether by true osmosis or not. One of my sisters kids that I have the sewing gene and she doesn't. This could be true. I've been chasing the perfect needle, thread, and fabric ever since. I truly do love to sew and think that part of the reason I do is that it invokes a memory of my mother that I want to hold onto forever.
And a happy Mother's Day to all of the moms out there, alive or in memory. And may all your stitches be even and fulfilling.

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