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Story Time!!

Crafty_Manx | Posted in General Discussion on

How did everyone learn to sew/knit/crochet/weave/whatever?

I learned from my Mom and Grandma.  They gave me scraps to “sew” with a big needle and embroidery floss when I was 5.  I made my first clothing (a jumper) when I was eight.  By the time I got to Home Ec in middle school I knew more than the teachers.  Now I’m learning how to draft my own patterns…I’ll sew anything at least once!

Someday, I’ll learn how to knit.



  1. rjf | | #1

    My Aunt Jane taught me to knit when I was 7 but I didn't really knit until 11th grade and by then I could read so I learned from some book or other.  I learned to sew in 7th grade Home Ec, almost the same way:  Read and ask questions when the book doesn't make sense.  My mother started me crocheting but I was a wretched teen-ager and would NOT ask her for help.  I'd just struggle and cry and throw it on the floor.  (My own children were brought up much better)  When I took up weaving, I figured I'd save time and took lessons which did help a great deal (I would have quit without them) but once again, reading is what keeps me going.

    I think for all these creative endeavors there is only one principle and that's that there is more than one way to ........... whatever.   If you feel free to improvise, you can't do it wrong.  It's just another method!   (Of course, you would like the sock to fit your foot and the zipper to unzip.  But there are lots of ways to accomplish those things.)  I'm carrying on about this because it took me so long to realize nothing has to follow the book exactly.                          rjf

  2. stitchmd | | #2

    I learned the fundamentals of sewing from my great uncle, who lived in the attic apartment of our house. He had worked in garment factories and had an old factory machine. Imagine an 8 year old sewing Barbie garment seams on that thing. It took years before a home sewing machine didn't feel like a snail by comparison. I never did much in my teens, made some dresses with my mother's help but in retrospect she knew as little as I did. I took it up again in my twenties at which point I was self-teaching by trial and error...a lot of error.

    My aunt taught me to knit, just the basic stitches, at around age 10, again the rest of my education is from books and stumbling around. A friend taught me the basic crochet stitches at age 14, more trial, error and books. From time to time I'll learn some special cast-on or chain from another knitter or crocheter I meet by chance.

    I learned to embroider by using instructions in kits for the different stitches. Same with silk ribbon embroidery.

    I hardly know anyone IRL who does these things and I usually wind up being the teacher since I tend to know more than they do.

    1. rjf | | #3

      "I hardly know anyone IRL who does these things and I usually wind up being the teacher since I tend to know more than they do."

      There does seem to be a vacuum out there.  Except for a few night classes in tailoring, I didn't know many people who sewed much but at the time, I didn't notice that sewing was a lonely occupation. Certainly when you're actually sewing, you need to concentrate but in the planning stages, it's nice to bounce an idea off someone else's head. 

      It took a long time to realize that but since I've learned to weave, I've discovered that joining a weavers' guild  is a great way to get a little help when you need it,  new ideas, new techniques, inspiration and lots of sympathy when things go wrong.


  3. user-222038 | | #4

    I "sort of" learned to sew from my mother, who was a great sewer.  But she didn't want me messing with her sewing machine, so she didn't teach me directly.  I watched her a lot and helped her whenever she let me.  I took sewing in Home Ec, so I at least got the basics.  Fast-forward 25 years...I got back into sewing to learn how to make clothes for my baby daughter.  I guess you'd call me an intermediate sewer now.  My daughter is almost 5, and I've spent those years teaching myself everything, with the help of great resources like this one!  I've finally gotten up the nerve to make my first suit, and I'm working on a muslin for the jacket.  So far, so good!

    My mom made a lot of clothes for my sister and me, and she made slipcovers for the furniture, back when sewing was actually a money-saving task.  Though she said she had no talent for "winging it" with patterns, she could make a slipcover that fit a couch so well it looked like the original upholstery--and with no pattern at all!

    She "retired" from sewing and prefers to knit; so now I'm making her clothes!  I just made her a knit outfit for a trip we're taking together to Ireland (I'm drooling over their fabric already).

    I took up hand embroidery when I was a young teen (for the reason above).  It was hard to learn as a leftie, but I did, and I got pretty good at it.  I've no interest in machine embroidery, though, and I very occasionally get out the hoop and floss.

    That's my story!

  4. kai230 | | #5

    I made my first clothing (a jumper) when I was eight. 

    Wow! I was making doll clothes then, and not all that well because I had no patience! They wore a lot of wrap clothing (this was SO before Velcro!) Plus, they had Grandma's exquisite outfits that matched mine when I was a tot. Anyway, it sounds like you started young and have come far, congrats!

    Grandma taught me to sew, at least how to work a treadle machine; Mom taught me how to use an electric and I recall having to stand to reach the pedal or have it and the chair propped up. Grandma also taught me to crochet, but my recall is only a chain stitch (which I used to do like the wind w/almost any size hook), to which I attach another chain (not her instructions). Depending on how you reverse things, you end up w/knit stitches or purl? Anyway, it's totally unconventional, but worked for me. The only crochet about it is the hook (or yarn), I think.

    Mom tried to teach me needlepoint, or whatever it's called where you stitch over a blueprint. I didn't have the patience, and didn't like the fact that it would show if you didn't do it perfectly. I later tried again w/my own design and a ragtag assortment of yarns and threads and knot knowledge. Not bad, but not my thing.

    Took a weaving course (backstrap I think it’s called); not my thing. A GF taught me hairpin lace—I went crazy w/that! Of course, I’ll have to google it up if I ever want to do it again.

    Pretty much stopped sewing when my machine broke, but that doesn’t stop me from collecting fabric! My rationale: I could always frame it or cover something w/it; nice gift wrap for another fabric hound.

  5. reddragonfly | | #6

         I learned to sew on my own.  My mother sewed all my clothes when I was little but refused to teach me how to sew.  She sent me to one sewing lesson where I learned how to make a pillow and after that I was on my own.  I used to cut things up and throw them in the trash.  I also used to come up with ideas that astound me when I look back at them today.  Before too long I had surpassed my Mom's sewing skills and have been sewing ever since.

    1. rjf | | #7

      "I also used to come up with ideas that astound me when I look back"  Because they were so inventive or because they were so dumb?  Some of each?  You know those "Guess how many jelly beans in the jar" contests?  I invented some of the most elaborate schemes to  get a good answer.....calculate height of container, circumference of container, number of beans in a cubic inch.......before it occurred to me that it was a gallon jug.  But sometimes a novice can come up with a great approach to a problem because their ideas aren't set in concrete.      rjf

      1. skyrocker1 | | #8

        My sewing experience started in the U.S. Navy with the introduction to a small sewing kit. We were told we did not have our mom's, sisters to help and you had better learn. Sewing buttons on, stripes.

        Later I became a Hospital Corpsman, and my sewing extended to sewing up sailors who got messed up on liberty. I can't believe how many got hit over the head with brown bottles in dangerous places. Later I served with the Marines as an F.M.F. Corpsman and took care of wounded at battalion aid stations. More sewing.

        My major in College was Theatre Arts, Minor in Sociology and History.

        Yipes, it was required to take costuming. Learning all the periods of

        clothing and making my first vest and other smaller bits of costumes.

        I also was the Master Carpenter and Designer for many shows. Many times I had to fall back on my Costume Shop experience. My wife does not sew,

        she is short and needs pants taken up all the time after her shopping trips. She is greatful for that. I also do projects for our church.

        Doc Ferguson

        1. JeanetteR | | #9

          My Mum and Nana were always knitting.  They knitted those complex traditional fairisle yokes that were posted back to the Shetlands to be packed with the wool for the average knitter to make the body and sleeves.  They were paid 50p for each, in the sixties and seventies (not much!). I used to help pick the colours.  All the females in our family have been taught to knit by the age of three, and my bear Winnie the Pooh still has the check waistcoat I designed and made when eight.

          Sewing, well my Mum took me to the markets to pick fabrics for a smock top, all the fashion when I was twelve and sat me down with the sewing machine and the pattern, saying begin at step one and call me if you need help!  Soon I was making clothes for Mum and Nana, wedding dresses at 18.

          Nana taught me crochet, including the all-purpose edging that her mother in turn had taught her.

          I discovered Bobbin lace in the 80s, and achieved the grand speed of a square inch an hour, and needed glasses within 3 weeks...Mum now is a master at bobbin lace.

          Mum was also a fabulous embroiderer all through my childhood, and still never goes anywhere on the bus or train without some knitting and embroidery to do, she lives in London and always uses the time on public transport creatively.  She is very good at Hardanger, Bargello and cross stitch, and now that I've discovered a passion for Stumpwork, she's having a go at that too, she hasn't tackled Temari yet.  I feel like I'm turning into my mother with this latent love of embroidery that has only surfaced in the last year or so!

          That's my story, I hope this wasn't too long a message for this forum!

          1. rjf | | #11

            "I discovered Bobbin lace in the 80s, and achieved the grand speed of a square inch an hour, and needed glasses within 3 weeks...Mum now is a master at bobbin lace."

            I've been seeing more bobbin lace at country fairs in the past two or three years.  Lots of straight pins and bobbins that look like jewelry??  It easy to see why you needed glasses.  If you make a mistake, it must take forever to undo it.  That's one of the nice things about knitting; ripping out is not so bad.  Bobbin lace is elegant and dainty but I'm sure most people don't appreciate the work that goes into making it.

            There were some messages about Stumpwork not long ago and they included some website addresses so I could see what it was.  Now that looks like fun!  I can see you need to careful but there's not so much counting and keeping track as in bobbin lace I  should think.                                                  rjf

        2. rjf | | #10

          Theater work is fun, frustrating but fun.  Sewing costumes must have much better than sailors' heads.  I worked for a costumer designer for a while and learned some of the most useful short cuts and tricks I know.  The other capability theater work gives people is to think outside the box.....it doesn't have to be done in a particular way, just as long as it works.  Your wife is a lucky woman.       rjf

          1. skyrocker1 | | #12

            Theatre is fun, demanding, never ending, always the next production and budget's in todays time. I was spoiled with the 60's when the arts

            were adressed in the Universities and we actually got money for new

            theatres, more staff, bigger budgets for shows. The productions do pay for themselves and in budget crunch time the shows are tuned to drawing

            audience, paying customers. Like you I learned from two superb costume

            designers. I also get involved in the historical society for period costumes and have done seminars on dress, mannerism's and developing

            a character of the time. That is fun. Doc....Oh no more Sailors heads!

          2. JeanetteR | | #13


            I've been off air a couple of days after a painful procedure on my foot, and hobbling has flared up my back, you know, the knee bone connected to the thigh bone, etc.

            To resume...Yes that's bobbin lace.  With practise as with most things you can build up a rythm, but I haven't touched it for years now, having dabbled and know this is not really my thing.  Mum sent a bobbin lace garter this month for my daughter's wedding coming up in July, of two lengths for the top and bottom to match with pink hearts in the pattern, and a pink gimp thread outlining them, with a ribbon casing for elastic, and it's gorgeous, but at about 100 hrs of work, it's such a tiny exquisite little thing. 

            It was wryly amusing that she took the ball running, and made this her expertise.

            Your weaving sounds very interesting, and it makes me think of Penelope in the Odessy weaving at home while Osysseus was away on his voyages, what a wonderful tradition.  Knitting has a lot of history too, with the Aran patterns coming from traditional fishing villages, so that if a fisherman drowned his village could be identified from the various cables and patterns in his jumper.  My most complex peice was from a traditional Norwegian black and white pattern, took 2 yrs in four-ply. 

            There seems to be enormous satisfaction to me in doing things the old, hand-made and time honoured way, as craftsmen/women of old would have.  I used to enjoy sewing, particularly sewing in that you could buy fabric at lunch time, come home and work at it and have a finished dress for church the next day!  As I've got older, now I enjoy the 'doing ', the process of embroidery or whatever, and doing it to the best of my ability, not in so much of a hurry to finish.

            With the love of sewing, which no-one taught me it turned out that Nana had a great-aunt who was a dressmaker to the Court of St James! Also in my genealogy there was a German tailor, who came from Hanover in Germany to London in the 1800's.  Now with me 'turning into my mother' regarding the embroidery, is there ANY way we can escape our genes?  maybe these skills really are in the blood.  I just hope someone will truly cherish my embroideries having put so much intense effort into them, and not just see them as a picture with a 2-second glance when I'm gone!

          3. Tish | | #14

            It's funny that you mention the Odyssey.  When I first learned card weaving (sometimes called tablet weaving) I wove a very long piece to use as a binding for a pillow made of a piece I'd loom woven, and to measure the warp I had d-clamps clamped to the edge of a long counter and walked back and forth winding the thread.  I told the teacher, "Now I know what Agememnon was talking about," and she said, "What?" And I said, "When Troy fell, he took Cassandra as his prize and told her she'd spend the rest of her life walking back and forth in front of his looms."

            Homer is loaded with handcrafts.  Remember Helen, spinning with her silver spindle and whorls? 

          4. JeanetteR | | #15

            Thank you for writing back!

            Isn't it fascinating how many references there are in literature to these crafts that remain essentially unchanged.  I can picture what you mean  by card weaving, warp threads (they're the ones that determine the length of the finished peice, right? and the weft are the across threads that can be off-grain, not true 90 degrees in printed quilting fabric?), and the other terms, but unfortunately have to confess to ignorance generally about weaving.  How fine a cloth can be woven on a home loom nowadays?  Is weaving a passion for you?  RJF writes of weaving too.

            Must read the Illiad and Odessey again, except my copies seem to have been lent out to who knows who!

            There are wonderful examples of cloth woven from ancient Egypt at the British museum, including the wonderful bindings on the mummies, and artifacts from Viking days.  The Victoria and Albert museum in London somewhat specialises in textiles including costume and embroideries.  Umpteen squillion other things too, but these stand out for me!  Living in Sydney now, it would be wonderful to just pop in to have a really good look.  As a teenager my favourite weekend occupation was to go up to the V & A and study the jewellery and costumes, and sometimes skived off school to do just that!   The most wonderful exhibitions ever were the Tutankhamun at the BM in about 1972, and the Faberge at the V&A in about 75/76, they both really influenced me.  Gosh, to live my life again I'd love to be a goldsmith, and weave the embroideries I stitch now into fabulous jewelled treasures...flights of fancy!

          5. rjf | | #17

            Isn't Homer the one with Penelope unweaving every night what she wove during the day?  She did it be choice but the rest of us often must do it from necessity. 

            Did you like card weaving?  How wide can you weave?  Are the threads both warp and weft?                                                         rjf

          6. Tish | | #19

            Jeanette, you may find this book interesting:

            Women's Work, The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth and Society in Early Times  by Elizabeth Wayland Barber.  It's copyrighted 1994, but it's still in print in paperback.  It is an amazing work of scholarship, and Barber is one of those gifted people who can write about scholarly topics in a manner that is fun to read.

            I do love to weave, but I am a full time college student and a full time mom, so I don't weave much except during the summer.  I am also pretty much a novice.  My loom isn't very sturdy and it only has four frames for lifting and lowering the warp (long) threads.  I can't weave good tight rugs because of the strength, and I can't weave really fine stuff, but there is an awful lot that can be done on a loom like mine.  Home weavers can weave practically anything.  It just depends on the type and quality of equipment they can invest in.  I have committed to trying to learn as much as I can on my simple loom before I go spending thousands of dollars on a better one. 

            RJF, Yes Penelope was the one who unwove.  Odyseus was gone a long time and she was under a lot of pressure to remarry.  Her suitors were a bunch of loafers, freeloaders and downright cads.  She claimed that she would chose a new husband when her great tapestry was finished, so every night she and her women took out the work they had done that day.  It took ten years for them to figure out the ruse, and just as they did, Odysseus finally made it back home. 

            Do you remember the passages where King Priam goes to his treasure rooms to gather the things he will offer Achilles in return for Hector's body?  Most of it is textiles.  The ancient Greeks measured wealth in lengths of fabric.

            Card weaving hurts my back.  you tie one end of the warp to a doorknob or something and the other end to your back and control the tension that way.  It is facinating how it works, and it goes pretty quickly, but I can't do it much.  I'm not sure how wide you can weave.  I don't think I could handle more than 30 cards, and each card has four warp threads.  The final band is warp faced, and the width depends on the size of thread you use.  I've never woven anything more than two inches wide.  I prefer my inkle loom.

          7. JeanetteR | | #21

            Thank you for the book reccommendation, I'll check with our library.  your descriptions of weaving sound very interesting...what do the frames do?  Is there a website you can link me to that gives an overview of the terms and pictures of the various looms?

            Isn't it interesting how we have these crafts partly through family example and sometimes through a kind of race memory, and that no-one except other practicioners of your craft really appreciate the effort that went into the making.

            In past times no-one except the wealthy would have had time for handcrafts that didn't directly earn to put bread on the table.  Just the sheer work of washing and ironing, cooking and cleaning was incredible, and then only candlelight to stitch by in the evenings, if you could afford candles.  My DH's ancestor was transported to Australia for stealing a candle!  What a meandering conversation...but that's one of the best things about this chat room!

          8. Tish | | #23

            Jeanette, you asked what the frames on a loom do.  The long threads (warp) are threaded through heddles. The heddles are sort of like long needles with no points and with eyes in the middle.  The heddles are held in frames that are raised or lowered by either levers or foot peddles. 

            When weaving, we pass a sideways thread (weft) back and forth between warp threads to make our web.  The frames allow a weaver to raise and lower the warps so that the shuttle that carries the weft can just glide right through a nice opening between the threads (the opening is called a shed).  For the very simplest plain weave, only two frames are actually needed, but if you have more, you can vary your patterns.  Also, the equipment has some bulk to it, so you need more frames to make finer cloth. 

            Weaving is an ancient art and the technology has developed in different ways in different parts of the world.  Some of the weaving terms are very archaic, but it just goes to show that they got it right and didn't have to change it.  I do not know of a website for weavers that has the information you've asked for, but again your library might have some weaving books.  When I was rebuilding my loom (it came from a yard sale) I looked on line for parts and didn't find many weaving sources.  I didn't find anything that was lots of info in one place.

            I have a book by a British historian on the history of housework--I can't go get it right now without waking up Himself, but I can give you the reference in another post later.  The author has traced housework technology through the ages and shown how different regions produced different kinds of houses and different tools for taking care of them.  The chapter on "lighting" was quite illuminating if you'll pardon the pun.  The amount of work that went into making candles and rushlights was enormous!  And after they were made, tallow candles had to be stored for a year to harden, and you had to hope that rats didn't get into them and eat them!  I began to see why the old church had a religious festival for Candlemas to bless the years' candles.

          9. rjf | | #22

            " It took ten years for them to figure out the ruse, and just as they did, Odysseus finally made it back home. "

            I always thought the author was pushing it when he let the men be deceived by Penelope's trick for so long.  And he obviously didn't weave himself.....otherwise he wouldn't have her unweaving!  It's interesting that wealth would be measured by fabric.  It's too easily available today to be so valued. 

            What would be interesting to learn is how the equipment for weaving got invented.  There are places were men do a lot of weaving but mostly we think of women as the weavers.  My husband is very good about making me tools if I can describe them well enough and of course the library has lots of pictures to help.  I like the fact that most of our tools were designed hundreds of years ago and changed very little since then but nowadays, we're seeing computers attached to looms as well as sewing machines.  Easier maybe, but not as esthetically pleasing, to me at least. 

            Does your card weaving look like inkle loom weaving?  Somehow I thought it might come out diagonally.                   rjf

          10. Tish | | #24

            rjf,  the book I suggested to Jeanette has more about the development of weaving in the ancient world than anything else I've seen.

            Card weaving and Inkle weaving look a lot alike, but card woven bands are a little bulkier.  Inkle patters are warp faced and repeat two horizontal lines like this:

            W W W R R B B R R W WG  W W W R R B R R W W WW W W R R B B R R W W

            When the weft is pulled tight, the warp colors show up as stripes.

            Card weaving uses four horizontal lines of pattern that repeat in mirror opposites:


            It doesn't make a diagonal band, but strong diagonal patterns show up best.

          11. rjf | | #16

            I think the prediliction and ability to do needle work can depend on your family.  If they work at it, you have an example to follow.  If they admire a particular craft, you an example to live up to.  My mother didn't sew after I learned how but my paternal grandmother did all kinds of hand work and so did her daughters.  But my grandmother had the ability to spot 4-leaf clovers and hardly a day went by without her adding some to her little brown jug.  And I could do that too, until I started working in concrete city.  And so can one of my daughters.  So I've developed this idea: that the "fourness" of the clover alerted something in my grandmother's brain so that she'd bend over and pick it.  It's a spatial and number thing that's so essential to being able to do hand work or build things.  And I think it's inheritable.  Probably a weird idea, but it makes me happy.         rjf

          12. JeanetteR | | #18

            Yes, that really makes sense.  If you're never exposed to needlecrafts/music/languages/whatever you are far less likely to pick them up, but could possibly if you become interested or inspired enough.

            Four-leaf clover spotting is a very particular talent!  Like most occupations, you get better and better with practise.  I learnt guitar in my teens and practised those finger picking patterns so well, they seem to have been ingrained into my brain.  The fingers are less deft from lack of guitar practise but still know what to do.  The half cloth, cloth and whole stitches in bobbin lace can become an automatic skill if you keep at it too.  Cloth stitch is just like weaving two rows of weft with only two warps at one time, then you go on and do the next two, etc across the rows.  If you name your bobbins 1,2,3,4 l>r, you put 1&3 over 2&4 to the right, 2&4 over 1&3 to the left and then repeat step 1, then move on the the next 4 etc!  You can work up a bit of speed, but i never kept at it enough, and I think real weaving could be far more productive!!!  But bobbin lace really is just weaving on a tiny scale.

          13. stitchmd | | #20

            I think there is more to it than family example, it's a nature-nurture thing. My grandmother, who died a decade before I was born, was a very skilled sewist, as is my oldest aunt and my middle aunt to some extent, my mother has little skill or interest. I have the ceaseless urge and am mainly self-taught because my mother couldn't and wouldn't really do it and my aunts weren't often available to help. The middle aunt is also a knitting addict who taught me the rudiments. My daughter has little inclination despite my constant sewing, knitting, crocheting and embroidering. She has tried some of these because of always seeing me do it, but derives very little satisfaction or pleasure from them.

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