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Why did you LEARN to sew?

GailAnn | Posted in General Discussion on

Morning Ladies:

Reading about Donna Kaye’s Moother, has brought back very fond memories to me about just WHY I bothered to learn to sew (beyond the required Home Ec in H.S.) in the first place.

#1)  I couldn’t afford the clothes I wanted.

#2)  I didn’t WANT the clothes I COULD  afford.

#3)  I saw a Miss America contestant (when?  Late 50s early 60s) do what she called a FASHION SHOW IN REVERSE.  Perhaps akin to the hat box show.    This was for the Miss America contestant’s talent portion of the program.  She came on stage, beautifully dressed, stepped behind a screen and change or remove a piece of clothing.  Next thing you knew she was wearing an entirely new beautiful outfit!  She ended in an cool and elegant stark black sheath dress. 

It was then revealed that she had made everything herself!!  I was Awestruck!!!!!!

Oh, how I wanted to do that too!!!!!  I spent years trying and learning and sewing, then, same as everyone else, marriage, children, job, sick husband, sick parents, and now, old age………So “Do Over”!

Miss Donna Kaye, was that Miss America contestant your Mama?  Gail



  1. Crazy K | | #1

    I think your #1 and #2 says it all.  I had the 'perfect figure' in high school.......perfect petite size something.  I bought one dress that was a perfect fit......however, my budget didn't allow for shopping at the 'better' stores.........my mom had a good Pfaff sewing machine, so I sewed! My first 'tools' were a pair of scissors (Mom bought me a good pair), some pins and a tape measure.....that's it!  By the beginning of high school I was making wool skirts without patterns.........you know, put the material on inside out and pin.  Worked for me because even patterns didn't fit well and I liked alterations then about as much as I do now!  I was lucky to have an aunt who sewed many of her own clothes........good clothes.  So, several years running I got about two cuts of beautiful wool for Christmas.  It was just enough to make those skirts.  I found that I liked sewing and it gave me an opportunity to have more clothes than I could have otherwise.  I'm glad I had the ability and a little experience because during my early marriage money was scarce as hens' teeth (remember that one!) and sometimes the only way I could have something new was to get fabric and sew.  Polyester was the rage and quite inexpensive so that's what I used.

    Now, many years later and a completely different life (different husband, too), things are different but I still love to sew and now can afford to have all the tools and TOL machines as well as my choice of fabrics.  Now, I mostly sew gifts and for the many grandkids.  It's still fun.......and since I've discovered machine embroidery........even more so! 

    Thanks for the walk down memory lane.............by the way.......no longer the 'perfect figure'..........now, still short, and round with boobs!


    1. Linda03052 | | #2

      I was in a drill team for girls at the time, and my mother didn't like the influence they were having on me.  So she said that if I quit the drill team I could join the local 4-H and learn to sew.  She gave me her machine and bought me a few essential tools and I was off.  I carried it about 2 blocks that Saturday to where the group met, and DAY 1 I fell in love with sewing.  During that week I completed what the group had taken months to accomplish.  I just couldn't wait--I was hooked!  After raising kids and returning to sewing, this was the first group of people I'd ever found who shared my passion!

      Linda 03052

      1. Crazy K | | #3

        Your mother was a wise woman!  I have one granddaughter (age 16) that loves to sew.  She started making costumes........she and friends were pirates for Halloween last year.  She was sewing on my husband's mother's old, old straight stitch mechancal that was a fussy old thing.  When I found out what she was doing and that she was sewing at the drama department in high school I ordered her a Janome Sew Precise........she is in Texas, I am in Minnesota!  We called a dealer near her home and her mom went and picked it up.  She was in heaven.  The sewing contintued and they came to Minnesota for Christmas (Dad was in Iraq and they needed to be near family).  When they got here I did some secretive questioning and while they were here DH and I ran out and got her a serger for Christmas.  Now.....I do NOT buy such expensive gifts for all the grands...........way to many for that.  I just felt Jessica deserves it.  She's been such a great kid while Dad has been overseas numerous times.............he's been in 20 years!  She helps mom and is a great student.  Well, anyway, she loves to sew, loves her machines and her drama teacher is thrilled to have someone that has experience with a serger.  The department had one and no one (not even the teacher) knew how to use it.  I'll be they do now!!!!

        More memories.......and I hope Jessica has fond memories of her first sewing when she reaches my age......


        1. User avater
          dayenu | | #4

          1, orginallly total boredom

          then i loved making something from scratch

          finally I am 5 feet tall and was not about to spend a fortune altering things.

          Now I love having something through the fruit of my hands which is totally unique.

        2. fashionnut | | #13

          I think that is fantastic what a great grandma!!! I think it is so important to encourage talent and interest (keeps them out of mischief) and who knows maybe she might start a business one day! My mom taught me to sew because I am tall and couldn't find clothes long enough, plus it was cheaper my mom would get the latest Harpers Bazaar look through it and find the pattern for it to make outfits for PTA meetings ect. money was tight then (still is) so her Singer Golden Touch and Sew got quite a workout, remember when Singer made a great machine!! Does she like to quilt? that is something I would like to do, I look at Nancy Zieman and Porter and Fons and would like to try this. It's a great way to relieve stress...I take care of my dad and mom more so my Pop he is an ex-Marine WWII and I am in grad school as well so sewing is a way to escape. Anybody have any great ideas for holiday gifts?

          1. Crazy K | | #14

            How great that you're caring for your parents.  Mine are both deceased and have been for many years.....Dad in 1971 and Mom in 1978.  I have no sibs so I've been an 'orphan' for a long time.  Dad was a Marine during WWII also. 

            You asked about Christmas ideas.............for adults or kids?  I have found flannel lounging pants a great hit with the tweens, teens and younger adults.  I made 22 pair of those one Christmas! For little tots, a nice fleece blanket is often a hit......at least in our neck of the woods.

            I'm not into quilting but I watch the shows you mentioned and also catch Alex Anderson now and then.  I do so admire the quilters and their artistic ability.  I would like to make a simple quilt someday just to say "I did it" but I'm sure it won't be elaborate.  I'm much too impatient for that..............instant gratification is my bag.  I like to make things that don't take weeks to complete!


          2. fashionnut | | #15

            Hi!! adults I saw a nice shawl in Lionbrands newsletter they just sent me that I would like to make for mom, maybe some nightgowns (flannel) also decorations we are coming into my favorite season of the whole year Halloween and so on. even though I do not have children I am a big kid at heart, so I love the decorations, food ect. Lionbrand had some great stuff for the tots that would make great gifts little cable sweaters cute as the dickens!!:-))

  2. solosmocker | | #5

    GailAnn, I remember that Miss America contest like it was yesterday. I remember my Mom and I watching it and being blown away.Doubt that they would do that today!

    Why do I sew:

    *It's in my genes. Great grandmother on one side was Parisian and a seamstress. Wish I knew more about her. My grandmother on the other side was an accomplished,very creative sewist who could make things out of air it seemed. They always had special touches, beyond what everyone else wore. I loved the clothes she made me. She also did a lot of heirloom daygowns and sold those. I remember her making those tiny little tucks. I could go on and on about her sewing abilities. I like to think I inherited the gene from her.

    *It was viewed as something all young ladies learned so my mom made sure I had lessons and learned.

    *It was necessary. I was one of 8 children and blessed with a strong fashion sense that regular retail couldn't provide me. My wedding gown was a copy of a Dior!

    *and the fourth reason why I sew is because I love to. It is my passion, my creative outlet, my therapy, my peace, and occasionally my frustration.

    So those are my reasons. Can't wait to read others. Great question, Gail Ann

    Edited 9/7/2007 12:25 pm ET by solosmocker

    1. GailAnn | | #6

      Where did you grow up ---  Southwestern Michigan perhaps?

      Did I read that you live in UpState New York?  Lake George?

      Sounds like we may have some things in common.  I grew up in Dowagiac Michigan.  Have spent time in and around beautiful Lake George.

      Now live too much of the year near Kansas City, Missouri, where it is Hot, Hot, Hot, and dressing nicely is avoided like the plague.   Can't decide if it is the relentless heat, or just the modern style.

      As I've said before, this is my year to get back into sewing.  Dress like I want to, and remember having once dressed.  AND to stop looking like a Ragamuffin.  Gail

      1. solosmocker | | #8

        I was born in New Orleans and raised in Lafayette, Louisiana, the heart of Cajun country. I spent every summer till she passed with my dear grandmother who taught me how to shop for a stash and then turn it in to the most wonderful garments. Summer in those days was from Memorial Day to Labor Day due to the lack of air conditioning. I so remember shopping with my Mamee for fabric and listening to her discourse on why a certain fabric was poor or great quality. My grandmother made all my undies and my mother' bras. She did amazing 3 dimensional crochet, heirloom hand sewing, and lots of knitting. It just seemed magical how she could turn the fabric I picked out into the prettiest little dresses. She definitely planted the seeds. solo

        1. GailAnn | | #11

          Such wonderful memories!

          My Aunt Jo actually taught me to sew. 

          Once, at the age of about 16, I was enamoured of a certain fabulous piece of what was then called Thai Silk.  Irridescent black and blue.  Aunt Jo talked me out of buying it, saying that it would rot and not last very long in my wardrobe.  The opportunity passed.  Only sometime later, did I think to ask her, just how long it would last, before the fabric rot set in.................."Oh, my dear, you can't expect more than 10 or 12 years of good service out of Thai Silk."  That was a lifetime to me.   Gail

    2. Teresa | | #7

      Just to let you know...it was Miss America 1951, Nancy Fleming....I remeber reading about her a while back in a pattern book, so I had to google her for the name

  3. starzoe | | #9

    I can't remember learning to sew, but I know it was on a treadle and it was before I went to school. When I had to take HomeEc in grade 6 I finished my voluminous, stiff cotton apron by the time the others had hardly begun. I have even sewn by hand when a machine wasn't handy, and taught sewing and pattern drafting at one time

    I still sew a lot, mostly for myself and my home, and sometimes for family. I taught my grandgirls to sew and they picked it up quickly.
    I'm mainly interested in well-fitting clothing that is a little "over the edge" and not what everyone else wears. I have a horror of looking like all the other little old ladies in town!

    1. sewelegant | | #18


      Found this little discussion this morning and enjoyed reading.  Nancy Flemming came to mind immediately, but I'm glad someone else remembered too!  She was on a sewing show in the 90's.  Was it Public TV?  It could have been HGTV, I just can't remember, but Kenneth King was always on with her.  They highlighted couture sewing more than just learning how to sew.  She still looked very nice.  I was in high school in the 50's and because I had 5 sisters and very little "clothes money" I couldn't wait to learn to sew.  My mother sewed beautifully and I think I wanted to do it just like she did.  Didn't accomplish that until much later, but I think I was always proud to say "I made it"....you really do get spoiled... I hated it when someone yelled out at me that she had a blouse just like mine back home (we were on a cruise).  That blouse wasn't exactly cheap either!  That was when I returned to my machine and vowed I'd make all my own clothes again.

  4. Josefly | | #10

    The answers to this question and the memories recounted are wonderful. Thank you for asking the question.

    I think I wanted to sew because my mother sewed so beautifully and clearly enjoyed it as a creative outlet. The clothes she made for me as a child were wonderful, though I really didn't appreciate them until I was a teenager. I loved the way she combined fabrics and trims, added handworked applique or embroidery, fagoting, etc. She soon included me in the choice of fabrics and planning of style. So I came to see sewing as an expression of artistry, talent, and skill.

    Of course, the two reasons you mention, expense and availability of truly pretty, distinctive clothes played a big role, and I grew up loving the idea of saving money. But I credit my mother's clear pleasure in the planning and actual sewing itself, with making me want to try it too. As a teenager, sewing was an affordable hobby that filled many lonely, otherwise boring, summer hours for me, and kept me a happy person.

  5. Teaf5 | | #12

    1) Everyone, including the boys, in our family learned to sew because my mother couldn't keep up with the demand of sewing all the clothes for all of her eight children.

    2)  When we got to be about ten years old, we got one school outfit bought or sewn for us each season, and all the rest were either hand-me-down or made/purchased by ourselves.

    3)  I loved clothes and fashion but never could afford even heavily discounted new ones.  Learning to sew allowed me to create what I saw in magazines or on my friends for a fraction of the cost.

    4) I was extremely impatient, and sewing something took much less time than waiting for that rare trip to the city to buy it (even if I could have afforded it!)

  6. meg | | #16

    1. It's in the genetic make-up. My great-grandmother sewed (although her daughter, my grandmother, did not), on the other side of the family my grandmother did, my mother does, I do, as does my sister. It's what we do.

    2. It's a way to get the garments we need or want, without having to spend the $$ on what's available.

    3. I can let the creativity flow!

    I remember at my HS senior prom, sitting at a table of 10 ~ one of the other girls had sewn her gown, too. She picked the same pattern as I but no one else could tell except the two of us. We all know how we feel when we walk into a room and another woman has on the same outfit!

    I'd love to know if that Miss America show might be available on video somewhere. It sure would be an inspiration to show to younger folks!

  7. DONNAKAYE | | #17

    No, it wasn't, but, man, wouldn't it have been a great story to tell if it were!  Mother was a Mrs. Louisiana, not a Miss Louisiana.  I couldn't believe your story when I read it.  I had never heard that before, and I don't think mother did either.  Wow.  Thanks for sharing that....

    Although mom forced me to learn to sew (I started at about five years-old), it wasn't until I became an adult and couldn't afford the beautiful clothes she had always made me (or made me make for myself) that I really took an interest.  You know the old saying, "A prophet is never welcome in his own country"?  Well, I suppose that was me.

    I had to make all my own school clothes, and I have to confess I just hated doing it.  By the time I was about 12 years-old, I started teaching the teenagers sewing in the summertime to earn school tuition for private school.  In my adult years, I earned some Bishop certifications (three, to be exact) and began teaching at the University of New Orleans in their non-credit classes.

    My career got in the way -- again -- for many years.  I'm now 52.  I had a total hysterectomy a number of years ago and, of course, my figure changed dramatically.  Up till then I was always weighing in at about 120 (I'm 5-4"), but .... well, you know the rest.  I really didn't have time, with my career going full blast, to sew a new wardrobe, but I just got so disgusted with the fit of RTW that I began bouncing on over to my sewing studio (a 15-by-30 workshop across my side yard) and digging out old patterns and fabrics.  Then I started visiting the Gatherings forum, and that's really what's kept me inspired.  I can't tell you how much visiting this forum means to me.  It keeps me alert and I am constantly challenged by someone's question.  This rusty old brain really has had to go to work to remember so much stuff I had forgotten.  It has also helped me to re-fit my own wardrobe, because it was like starting from scratch.....Thanks again....You're the best....D.

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