Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Needle and Thread

Yesterday morning, with the remnants of a tropical storm drumming on my roof, I was in my sewing room. And I was actually sewing, which was comfortable and familiar, even after a long, long absence from one of my favorite hobbies.

Learning to sew was a given in our house. Mom made just about all our clothes, at least until we were teenagers and jeans took over our closets. She made play clothes, school clothes, and Sunday clothes for all three of us girls, besides making her own clothes and a vast wardrobe for our Barbie Dolls. How she did it is beyond me, especially after she went back to a full-time job when I was five. Even the shopping boggles my mind, what with all the choosing of patterns, fabrics, buttons, and such for the four of us. But without fail, whether it was Easter Sunday or the first day of school, we were decked out in new finery, all made by Mom.

Connie, Janie, Mom, and me in our Easter dresses, 1963, when I was three.
It naturally followed that all three of her daughters learned to sew under her careful instruction. 4-H projects were also good teachers, with each of our creations evaluated and scored by Home Demonstration agent Eleanor Shanklin. Her sharp eyes and high standards pushed us to learn and perfect new techniques every year, always in pursuit of another blue ribbon.

By the time I was in high school, I was making most of my own clothes, mostly dresses, skirts, and tops.

I made this dress for my senior prom in 1978.
(FYI, that nice fellow is not my husband.)
Then, in college, I lugged my grandmother's ancient but very reliable portable sewing machine to my dorm room (on the fourth floor with no elevator!) so I could spend weekend hours making new clothes. I continued sewing after I got married, making a good portion of the clothes I needed for my job as an elementary school library media specialist. I even made a wool suit and placed 5th in a "Make It Yourself With Wool" contest. I kept on sewing right up until the turn of the century. That was when several things came together and caused me to leave sewing behind. For one thing, fabric stores disappeared and finding quality fabric and notions was just about impossible, especially for me since I live so far away from shopping opportunities. Pattern prices went through the roof, with one pattern costing $10 or more when they used to be considerably less than $5. (I wonder what they cost now!) Notions, especially buttons, also skyrocketed. The last two dresses I made buttoned all the way down the front ( and I'm tall), and the buttons cost more than the fabric!

In addition, at about the same time, I discovered clothing manufacturers were finally making sleeves, pant legs, and hemlines long enough for my tall frame. And there were sales! Add to all that the fact that the year 2000 ushered us  into the elder care season of our lives with a vengeance, and sewing simply faded into the background, becoming something I used to enjoy.

I haven't made any clothes for over ten years now. I've done some mending, and I made a blaze orange jacket for my dog to protect her during hunting season, but I've not cut out and sewed a new creation for many a year. Until the past few days, that is, when I finally got around to making a skirt for the laundry room sink at the Guest House.

It's the original sink that was installed when indoor plumbing and a bathroom came in the late 1950s. I am delighted to be able to re-use it, but it is a little stark. I bought fabric to make a skirt months ago, and finally got around to it late last week. After careful measuring (more than once) I cut out the pieces for the skirt and a band around the top.

Then there was a lot of stitching

and gathering

and pinning and pressing

and still more stitching,

some of it by hand.

I was pleased with how it all came back to me: the fabric and thread, pins and needles working together under my hands, with the hum of the sewing machine and the rain on the roof creating a pleasant soundtrack for my work. When I snipped the thread from my final stitch, it was with a very contented sigh.

I don't know what it is about us humans that makes so many of us want to create with our hands. Whether our medium is fabric, clay, wood, or paper, there's a desire deep within to make something: something useful or beautiful, something sturdy or delicate, something to keep or give away. After being away from my sewing for too many years, it has been sweet indeed to once again make something by setting my hands to the rhythm of scissors, needle, and thread.


  1. I'm so glad you found your way back to the pleasures of this and the beautiful little sewing room in the nook of your roof. I always loved seeing you in your new hand stitched finery when we first started teaching. And you sew so much better than most of the stuff you find on the market today. Hooray for rediscoveries in retirement. Now make yourself some dancing duds, cause we might just dance our way into our sixties....;your dancing friend.

  2. That sink skirt is beautiful! Great job! I taught myself how to sew. I've never tried to make clothes, but the skill sure does come in handy when it comes to making things for the house!

    1. Thanks, Donna! Although I've made a lot of clothes, I'm not so comfortable with curtains, pillows, and such. That's why I was a little nervous about making the sink skirt, especially without a pattern.


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