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Thursday, 13 October 2016

Does Anyone Sew Their Own Clothes Anymore?

I was putting my little mini ironing board away in my closet today. I do not iron frequently and sometimes if it is just a quick little thing that needs smoothing out, I can't be bothered to get out my full sized ironing board, so I have a little one that I can just put on the bed or the floor. But that's not what I'm writing about. As I was sticking this in my closet on one side of the tower of shelves, I noticed my folded up cardboard sewing cutting board hiding in there.

Obviously not my photo, but this is what the cutting board looks like.

I haven't used it for years. Seeing it got me to thinking. Does anyone even sew their own clothes anymore? Before I had this ultra fancy cutting board (eye roll) I crawled around on the floor, laying out fabric and patterns, pinning, cutting, basically playing a one person game of Twister.

It was only natural that I would learn to sew. I grew up in a house that had a sewing machine in a lovely wooden cabinet in the main kitchen / family room. The sewing machine looked exactly like this, except it folded down into a wooden cabinet.


Oh my god, how many seams did that machine sew? My mother sewed. She was of the era of the polyester pant suit. I HATED her polyester pant suits. I would beg her to stop wearing polyester. But the stuff sews like a dream, so I can understand why she liked to work with it. She repaired anything that needed repairing. She hemmed my clothes. I was the youngest of many cousins and had an older sister as well. I grew up in hand-me-downs. Sometimes things were too long. Sometimes even new clothes were not the correct length. The absolute torture of having to stand completely still while my mother pinned up the hem was unbearable. I was always afraid of being poked.

My older sister sewed. A LOT. She sewed remarkable things. At one point, I swear, she sewed a suit for her husband. A SUIT!!!! Who sews a suit?

So I learned to sew. I started with things like simple two seamed Barbie slip dresses. The kind where you could just pop Barbie's head off and slip her into a basic rectangle with arm holes. I sewed my own stuffed bunny rabbit from scraps of material. I took the mandatory Home Ec. class in grade seven. By then, I already had been using a sewing machine. Many girls in my class were "new order" Mennonite and had also already been using a sewing machine. We made the typical gathered apron (I kept it and my daughter used it to play dress up), the wrap skirt, and the furry stuffed animal made from a kit.

I learned to love fabric stores. At one time, in the relatively small town close to where I grew up, there were three fabric stores. THREE! I can still remember how they smelled, what they felt like, the joy of standing at the rack where the Butterick, McCalls, and Simplicity patterns books were resting on the ledge, flipping through them and looking for what was new. You'll notice I didn't mention Vogue. I couldn't afford Vogue patterns. If you bought a Vogue pattern, it had to be for something very special. I would buy patterns that were kind of like this:


or this:

I sewed my own skirts (LOTS of skirts), dresses, some simple pants, a few shorts, some tops. Shirts that were more tailored were a little harder. I would take my chosen fabric over to the notions section of the fabric store and would do some colour matching. Thread would have to be perfect, as close to a match you could find. How much thread would you need? It was the worst when your bobbin ran out and then you had to load a new bobbin only to discover you wouldn't have enough thread on the spool. And then there were the buttons. Which buttons to choose? There were so many buttons. I always looked at the cute little animal and floral buttons. I had nothing I wanted to sew that would be suitable for those buttons, but I liked looking at them anyway.

Zippers. The selection of zippers was tremendous. You had to check the pattern to see which length to buy and then came the matching of zipper to fabric again.


I wasn't the only one who sewed. I started highschool in 1980 (I think), and sewing was very popular at that time. Many girls sewed their clothes. Patterns were relatively inexpensive, fabric was plentiful, and it was guaranteed to be the way to have something unique that nobody else was wearing. Oh how I wish I had pictures of some of the dresses I made. Yes, we wore dresses then. We went to dances, too. I would find out about a dance coming up on the Saturday night, would buy a pattern Thursday and it would be ready for the dance. (Don't be thinking cotillion here complete with white gloves, these were local community dances, some put on by the Dutch Canadian society and they never checked to see if you were underage at the bar!)

I even sewed my own prom dress with boning, made out of a lovely lilac coloured "satiny" kind of material. (I went with a friend... that's sad isn't it?) (but I had a great dress!) Sewing was fun and rewarding. It could also be really flipping frustrating. My best friend at times was my seam ripper! And it was always great when you turned things right side out and you realized you sewed the sleeve in inside out. Get out the seam ripper again. I ironed and ironed and ironed. A great piece of clothing depended on how well you ironed your pieces as you were sewing them together. I ironed a lot of interfacing, too. That was the slightly fuzzy white inside layer that provided some extra substance and helped create a shape around neck holes, for instance. It was the 80's so I bought a fair amount of shoulder pads and sewed those in place, too!

When I was in university, I sewed my own stirrup pants. Yes, stirrup pants. My housemate and I went to a vintage clothing place and found a neat ornate dress. We took it home, and I took it in at the waist and hemmed it up a bit and turned it into really neat New Year's Eve dress for her. I made lined skirts, big boxy unstructured jackets, and all sorts of other "stylish" 80's fashion pieces.

When my daughter was a tiny girl, I made a couple of little dresses for her. I've made a few curtains over the years, but honestly, I cannot remember the last pattern I've laid out. I don't even know how much a pattern costs now. The closest actual fabric store is 45 minutes away and I haven't even been in it. With stores filled with cheap clothing made in far away countries by children younger than I was when I started there is probably very little need to sew clothing anymore. I did it because you really could save money by making things yourself.

I still have my little sewing box filled with pins, bits of left over elastic, some hook and eyes, more bobbins than matching spools of thread, and a trusty seam ripper. Sewing was such a part of my teenage years and early twenties. Maybe it is something I might rediscover when I am done working. But the old Singer sewing machine is long gone. It made beautiful button holes.

26 comments:

  1. my mom sewed, even lame baton twirler costumes for me! I tried it, didn't like it, so rebelled against her by never doing it again. Not proud of that. Just sayin. Nice old Singer! Thanks for the trip down memory lane!

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    1. Baton twirling, huh? Do you still have your baton?

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  2. Yes! I grew up like this as well. My mother sewed all of our good clothes when I was growing up, and she made my first prom gown in 1984. I was in the 4H sewing club in middle school and a creative fashions class my senior year of high school. But I have to admit, that I don't enoy sewing at all. I find it tedious and frustrating. I did make my daughters and myself a few years back, but the sewing machine has been put away in a cupboard for awhile now. It's nice to know it's there and I have the basic skills if I need them, but sewing just doesn't make my list of hobbies, I'm afraid.

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    1. And I think that's kind of the thing... people sew now because they actually like it, to do something creative, as opposed to having to sew for economical reasons. I despise big projects like curtains. They NEVER end up straight.

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  3. My girls grew up wearing some of the nicest dresses in their crowd. We were quite poor, but I managed to sew some really nice stuff using remnants.
    My grandmother taught me to sew as soon as I was tall enough to run the treadle. At 13 I made myself a 3 piece suit! My home economics teacher HATED me and found fault with everything I made. (She knew my one grandmother was a tailor and the other was a home economics teacher herself).
    I have kept the vintage patterns that I really like and have taken others and modified them to make other stuff.
    These days I mostly sew dresses for myself and some ethnic clothing (eg. Kameeze suits) that are impossible to find in my community.

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  4. I still sew! Not as much as I used to but I do love to sew for the kids. My ex-mil was a seamstress and I learned so many tricks from her. I, too, started out sewing doll clothes and moved into making my own skirts and I used to sew ALL my clothes. I made my kids all matching outfits for Christmas and Easter, etc. It is fun to look back on some of those pictures now.

    I used to quilt a bit, too but haven't done that in years and years. I so admire women that quilt.

    We used to have 4 fabric stores in town. I think we are down to one now-although Hobby Lobby and Walmart also sells fabrics. There was a certain excitement to being in a REAL fabric store -and the smells of all the fabrics and array of fabrics and colors and 'possibilities' laid out in wonderful displays. Sometimes I do miss those days. xo Diana

    ps. My youngest daughter is a wonderful seamstress-makes all her own draperies and costumes for her kids, etc.

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    1. Ha ha I can just see your kids all decked out like the Von Trapps!!

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  5. I've got a singer machine that folds down into a table as well. It was my grandma's who sewed everything. It has little disks to do embroidery and loads of different stitches. It also has loads of special feet that can do buttonholes and ruffles. It's a shame I don't use it that much. I just like the actual sewing part - cutting out the pattern and marking the fabric is frustrating for me. So I just make stuff that doesn't really require a pattern, like placemats and cushions.

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    1. I've never done ruffles, but I remember the sewing machine had a special foot and contraption that you needed so you could make buttonholes. I would not enjoy crawling around cutting out a pattern unless I could do it on a table top, maybe.

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  6. I haven't for a while though I do adapt clothes with my sewing machine. The charity (thrift) shops in the UK are so good you see. xx

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    1. Hello! I think you are a new commenter. Welcome!

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  7. I learned to sew years (and years) ago. I sewed all my own clothes in high school. Even slacks. I loved fabric and creating something out of seemingly nothing.
    I got a job in a fabric store which only furthered my addiction to fabric and sewing. And, my discount...used it to buy a Vogue pattern for my wedding dress. :)
    When my daughters were young, I sewed all their clothes as well as shirts for the hubs. (and the majority of my own clothes) I taught my girls to sew and we still have the Singer machine (like the one you posted) that my youngest bought at an antique store for $25. My eldest daughter has an alteration/sewing business that she keeps running due in part to her own sturdy little Singer machine.
    But, I haven't sewed in years. I don't foresee getting back to it, but, I guess never say never.
    You brought back some good memories!

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    1. See! I told you Vogue patterns were just for special outfits!

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  8. I've sewn all my life; not because I really loved it, but because I knew how and needed to sew. When I revived my weaving career, I sewed garments on a machine identical to the one you've pictured. When I quit, I asked an auctioneer to take all the sewing equipment and weaving equipment for auction. He said "No one does this any more," and walked away from it. I gave it away.

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    1. Oh yes, I knew that you weaved. Now that's an art form that not a lot of people can do or know anything about!

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  9. You bring back good memories for me. My nana taught me how to sew and then I took home etc for 4 years. I still have my sewing machine and serger but haven't used then in years. I think about starting again but fabric is s expensive.

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    1. I never had a serger. I'm not even sure what I would do with it.

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  10. My mother was a seamstress and even a pattern maker, so you'd think I would have learned from her. I didn't. She tried to teach me and I couldn't be bothered. I learned how to sew in high school. We used to have home economics courses back then and sewing was one of them. I discovered that I really liked it and I was so fascinated by patterns. I imagined making all kinds of interesting things. But sadly, I didn't follow through and just learned basic sewing. Oh well, at least I can hem pants and sew on buttons!

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    1. I think "seamstress" was a more popular occupation a generation ago. Now we seem to have more disposable clothing. My aunt was a seamstress who used to sew entire wedding party dresses. It is also important to be able to sew on a button, as well!

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  11. I left a comment and I'm not sure if it went through. The page refreshed without warning and POOF my comment was gone. If it didn't go through, I wrote that I didn't learn sewing until I was in high school (in a home economics class, which we had back then) despite my mom being a seamstress and even a pattern maker. I had dreams of making a lot of things but sadly didn't follow through. I just learned basic sewing but at least I can hem pants, sew on buttons and make repairs!

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    1. Yay! Now I have double the Martha! That was bizarre, I just put your comment in and then another one popped up. I don't mind.

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  12. I've never learned to sew. My mother made a lot of our clothes and sewed curtains and bedding. I never had the interest.

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  13. Hi Jenn! Bloggers Over 50 here... Added you to the site. Thank you for joining up with the rest of us. Please copy and paste the Bloggers Over 50 address box onto your sidebar and we are good to go!
    Enjoy visiting new friends!
    Donna

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  14. I love your post............I do not sew clothes for myself.........but I have friends who do. I sew a lot of baby dresses and such......

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  15. OH such sweet memories!
    I learned to sew in gr 7.... And never looked back!
    I loved Betsy Johnson patterns...we are talking mid 60's and up!
    I made some of my bridesmaids dresses...2 flower girls....countless dresses and housecoats for my daughters....oh my....the list in endless! I used to make my boyfriend ties...jams...and a madras blazer once!
    Patterns are very pricey now...I bought a Raggedy Anne pattern for Vivian, haven't made it yet! I made them for my girls as well...
    Thanks for the trip down memory lane!
    Drapes...cushions....seat covers.....blah blah blah....hahaha!
    Cheers!
    Linda :o)

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