Learning to Sew

My mother’s mother, whom we called Nana, could sew anything. She sewed curtains that could hang in a mansion and wedding dresses that were a dream. Nana sewed winter coats and summer dresses and everything in between. My brother, who was 23 years older than I, also sewed. He is the father of five sons and sewed all the maternity clothes for my sister-in-law. He could sew tiny little baby shirts and itty bitty pants. Nana and Larry were so gifted at sewing. Then there’s me.

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I have tried sewing several times in my now long life. The first attempt was when I was about 12 years old. My Aunt Millie took me to her basement where she had her sewing room. I was captivated. She prepared and turned on the sewing machine explaining as she went. She deftly began to slide the material through. Then suddenly she stopped. She had run the needle right through the nail of her index finger and there it stayed. I screamed for my uncle then, like a true coward, I ran all the way home. It was only eight houses but it seemed to take forever. I promptly scared the heck out of my mother with my garbled tale of huge needles and gallons of blood. In the aftermath, when everyone was home and details were sorted out I was told it wasn’t a big thing (uh huh) and I vowed never to get near one of those dangerous machines again.

Then I started high school. I don’t know how things are now but when I was young, girls in high school took Home Economics and boys were herded into Woodshop or Mechanics. This was not an option. If you were a girl, you were going to learn to cook and sew even if it killed you and everyone around you.

Thank goodness my foray into Home Ec was not something I had to face alone. My best friend, Sue, was there by my side. She is the reason I survived the kitchen and the sewing room at school. But I did not come out of the experience unscathed. Since those harrowing days I have learned to cook and bake and I really love both. Sewing, however…

In my late thirties, what I called my twenty-tens, I tried sewing again. I got a really nice sewing machine capable of things I believed must be possible because the machine was magical. It could make button holes the exact size needed. It cut a little slit then miraculously stitched around the slit so it didn’t fray!

I was absolutely certain I’d be able to join the sisterhood (and brotherhood) of sewers.

I was wrong. In spite of reading the manual for the sewing machine as though it had been delivered by angels and in spite of poring over the pattern for the shorts I wanted to sew, things did not go well. I wanted to blame the machine but I remembered the bobbin of the sewing machine in high school and how it looked as it levitated itself off the little stick and rolled out the door, across the hall, and into the classroom on the other side. Repeatedly. I remembered the nun who taught Home Ec calling me Rachel; a cruel reference to the sewing disabled character in “The Trouble with Angels.” So, I put the cover on the sewing machine and it found a home several towns to the east.

And now, as I’m in what are supposed to be my restful, golden years, I find that I really need to learn to sew. This means I need a sewing machine and iron-clad protection for my fingers. I’m terrified but there’s no choice.  Most of my clothing needs to be mended. My husband’s clothing needs to be adjusted due to his weight loss. I have to sew.
I’m going in. I’ll report as I make my way through mending shorts and figuring out what that metal pizza-cutter looking thing does. And, if I don’t make it out alive, know that I’m doing it for everyone out there who lives in fear of bobbins and patterns.

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13 thoughts on “Learning to Sew

  • May 5, 2016 at 9:33 am
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    Oh my gosh! The memories. First….you can do it. Second….put the pizza cutter down and step away!!!!! It can be deadly and will bite when provoked. Unless you are quilting, you should never taunt the beast. Don’t ask me how I know. (It involves copious amount of blood.) Start with an ‘easy’ pattern, with as few seams as possible. The fabric stores have plenty of them. Read the cryptic directions……then call me. And always remember, Rachel was my favorite character from my favorite movie! Love you, Sweetie. You got this!!!!##

    Reply
    • May 5, 2016 at 8:17 pm
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      Sue, all the cake ingredients all at once in the bowl, then you turned around. Then the Saturday you spent sewing my project so I could actually escape Home Ec and Sister Mary Evil. At least I can cook and bake now. And I have you on speed dial!

      Reply
    • May 5, 2016 at 8:22 pm
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      I sort of have a passion for sewing because I’ve never stopped wanting to learn. But I’m so scared. I keep seeing my Aunt Millie’s face….and finger. But, I’m trying to find a cheap sewing machine and I’ve got Sue ready to help. Or take me to the hospital. Whichever I need. 😀

      Reply
  • May 5, 2016 at 7:41 pm
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    What a great article! Made me think of my sewing experiences. My Grandmother Kingston (that’s also a little city across Puget Sound in Seattle, WA — and somehow they are connected to it, but I don’t remember now what I was told when very young), BUT back to sewing — my Grandmother Kingston and my Aunt Hazel Kingston owned a curtain factory in Seattle. I visited it only a couple times when I was small. She must have had 50 sewing machines in that place. They made curtains and drapes, and I believe they sold them to larger businesses who in turn sold them to the public. They both worked their until they were VERY old! They loved the curtain business!

    I too had a Home Ec class. We’re showing our age! Ugh. It was one of 3 selectives for girls: Home Ec, shorthand, bookkeeping. Whoo whoo, what exciting classes preparing for such an exciting future! LOL I only attended for one semester because our teacher died and they never replaced her. No wonder I’m a lousy cook! LOL

    I made all my maternity clothes because I didn’t want to spend good money on something I’d only wear for 9 months! I then took square scraps from all the clothes and made a quilt. It was on my daughter’s bed for many years, so I think she still has it. I also made a little pillow that sits on a chair to this day.

    “My brother, who was 23 years older than I, also sewed.” I notice that is past tense. (Sad face). But that is AMAZING that he sewed!!! And even made all your sister-in-law’s maternity clothes! Wow! A guy? SMILE! That’s very unusual!

    I enjoyed your article!!

    Reply
    • May 5, 2016 at 8:20 pm
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      Thank you, PJ. Yes, all my brothers are gone now. I still have my sister. And my brother was an amazing guy. He and my sister-in-law raised 5 boys who turned out fabulous but he called me his baby sister until he died. I think that makes me the oldest baby in the world!
      I’m going to try so hard to sew as soon as I get a machine. I did repair some shorts by hand and all I can say is, it’s a good thing they’re just for taking the dogs to play at our friend’s house!
      You, Sue, Ekhlas, and the rest of the sewers are my idols!

      Reply
  • January 5, 2017 at 11:46 am
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    I love how you tell your stories, Elizabeth. I could just picture your reaction to your aunt’s sewing blunder. I was cringing! I remember my grandma trying to teach me how to sew and losing her patience with me. I think I managed to sew one side of a nightgown once. I miss my grandma. She used to visit me and do all our mending. So sweet of her, but I think she knew I couldn’t manage more than sewing on a button!

    When I was in middle school boys and girls had to take one semester of home ec and one semester of wood shop. I got a B on my pillow because it had too short a ruffle, which couldn’t be helped since I had ruined the extra fabric the first go around. I got an A on my cutting board in wood shop though. 😅

    Reply
    • January 5, 2017 at 12:48 pm
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      Camie, the Sue who commented above saved me in Home Ec. When I was a kid we had a maid and another lady who did laundry. I didn’t really have to cook until that horrible semester in high school. I’m lucky Sue didn’t kill me. Twice. Once for the cooking and once for the sewing. That whole experience was something I still think about. I’m sure Sue does, too!

      Reply
  • January 5, 2017 at 1:57 pm
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    I had no idea you wanted one so badly! I met you in October so this is the first time I’ve read this post! How exciting!!
    LOL, you poor thing – I can imagine what that must have been like to see someone’s nail get trapped. I had that happen to me, sort of, when I first started using a machine. You learn REALLY quickly that the machine is in charge and that you must stay out of her way! 😛
    And your brother?! WOW! First of all, what a big age difference! And second, how amazing that he sewed so well as to make her clothing! O_O
    I come from a fairly long line of seamstresses, but it skipped a generation with mom – she either didn’t or couldn’t sew so I didn’t learn as I was growing up. I have taught Maggie (16) some things and she knows basic operations and such but she’s really not interested. She fills bobbins for me when I ask, though, so that’s something! 😉

    Reply
    • January 8, 2017 at 3:59 pm
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      My brother was amazing! I’ll have to ask my nephews if he ever taught them. My brothers were SO much older than I. 24, 23, 21, and the “little” brother 12 years older. Maggie is my hero that she’s unafraid to do the bobbins! You should have seen me! I looked like I was doing open heart surgery.

      Reply

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