How one stumbles into sewing

A reader comment on my last post got me thinking about how I stumbled into sewing.

Only cool kids wear ric-rack

My mom was a sewer, I believe from an early age, and she was a home economics teacher so teaching sewing (for at least part of the school year) was her job.  Growing up I always had a good supply of hand-made clothes.  Of course I never appreciated them, because to me hand-made clothes were what the poor kids wore.  Cool kids shopped at the mall and at The Gap; we shopped at the Jones Store and fabric stores.  I joke now that everything down to my underwear was hand-made.  And seriously it was.  My mom made the best underpants.  When I went to college and started buying my own I was always befuddled why they always gave me wedgies; Moms hand-made underpants never did.  And knowing what I know now about the frustrations of sewing with knits I have no idea how she managed to make these said underpants and has moved up in my tower of sewing worship to demi-god status.

Now hand-made clothes are cool again.  Kitchy, retro, earthy, personal; everyone loves to have a hand-made something-or other.  Commercial clothes are ‘out’, hand-made ones are ‘in’.  It makes them feel warm and fuzzy I suppose.  I think the popularity of shows like Project Runway and online outlets such as Etsy have made sewing and hand-made crafts even more popular.

I thought this outfit was the bees knees growing up.

Our costumes were sewn by mom, and so were Christmas dresses, swim-suits (how I ask, HOW did she sew with LYCRA!), prom dresses, graduation dresses.  It was rare that we went to anything but a fabric store to pick-out something for a special occasion.

Two little Indians

Needless to say I learned a lot by watching my mom.  I was dragged in and out of more fabric stores than I will ever be able to remember.  I helped her pick fabrics, look at patterns, and pick out the notions needed for said patterns.  This is how I learned.  No one teaches you how to read a pattern and figure out what you need and how much of it and the general knowledge of knowing if a certain type of fabric will work for that project.  I’ve had 30 years of watching my Mother work at this and it just sorta stuck.

Senior Prom

I have very fond childhood memories working on sewing projects with my Mom. I think my absolute favorite was my Junior Prom dress (unfortunately I do not have a photo of it here) that was made from a 1970’s dress pattern that she had used for herself once back in college.  But there were so many others too. I remember outfits that she made that I would wear, and wear, and wear.  The fun thing is she saved the scraps from these outfits and made me a quilt from them.  I hope to be able to do the same for Sydney someday.

Now I myself have never had formal sewing training. I never took a home-ec class and I never really sewed anything substantial growing-up in a house that had two sewing machines.  I started sewing when I got my own machine a little over a  year ago on June 14, 2009.  I then found some sewing classes offered at my local fabric store.  I learned by doing (and re-doing).  I’ll say that sewing bags and baby bedding were probably the easiest projects I tackled.  Sewing clothes can be fussy but I’m learning techniques to make things simpler as I go.  The internet has been a great resource.  There are free tutorials galore out there (like this one I used to learn how to shirr) for just about anything you want to learn; you just have to find those pockets of information and amazingly they link together.  The sewing world is small.  Of course I still call my Mom quite a bit to ask silly questions like “what is this” or “how do I do that” or “where will I find this”.

My Mom could probably answer this question better than me after trying to teach snot-nosed kids how to sew for 30+ years; but I think anyone can sew.  It’s a learned process, but it is just that, a process…not necessarily a talent (I don’t think everyone can play the piano for example; that is a talent).  I suppose people who like to put things together, especially from unclear sometimes shoddy instructions, may enjoy sewing more than others.  One must have a good ability to follow directions, but be level-headed enough to know when the directions suck and another way is better.  Good spatial orientation is helpful too since a lot of the stuff you are putting together is inside-out and backwards.  Patience is also necessary when sewing cause you will do things wrong and will have to rip things out.  The thing that is fun about sewing is that it is methodical; the pieces go together in a certain order to create an item.  There is something about that process that makes me tick.  You also learn from every project which helps for the next and the next.  So if you do decide to go for it and get a machine realize that your first project will be terrible, but you will eventually have the tools in your tool-box to put together almost anything.

A lot of my friends say I’m a better Mom because I sew and I couldn’t disagree more.  Some of my mom friends run marathons or do triathlons; I sew.  Others travel a lot for work; I sew.  Others scrapbook, I sew.  In the entire scheme of things my hobby may be domestic and more useful (I can hem my own pants and jeans!) than other hobbies but it definitely doesn’t make me a better mother.  I just means my kid will be better dressed than theirs!  ; D

Graduation suit


  1. What a great post, Julie. Really enjoyed reading this one – thanks for sharing.

  2. Julie's Mom says:

    Oh my! I never knew that I was being watched so closely. Let this be a lesson to all of you new moms. You are being watched in all you do and say. And look, it lasted all the way through high school!

    I have to disagree with one statement of Julie’s — Everyone can not sew.
    Like she said, I spent 30+ years in the classroom teaching young ones (6th, 7th, 8th, and 9th graders; boys as well as girls) how to sew. There were some projects that had more of my sewing than the students. They just didn’t get it. “It” could have been how to operate the sewing machine, how to fit the pieces together that requires some abstract thinking, or how to manipulate the fabric along with the sewing machine.

    You must understand that all pieces are not the same shape and size and you must get them to fit together to make the flat pieces of fabric to fit your curvy, uneven body. You know your front side is different than your back side. (This always made the kids giggle in the classroom when I pointed this out.) That is why making something that is flat and square is usually were it all begins. You aught to see Julie’s first project — (it is somewhere in this series of blogs) — a patchwork cover for her new proudly owned Bernina sewing machine. Oh my! Grade NOYB (none of your business). But she still displays her cover every day, and I hope it stays there for a long long time. For someone that did this all by herself, without one lick of help, it is absolutely wonderfully beginner perfect!

    As for the “unmentionables” mentioned above I did take some special classes on how to work with knits, lingerie and swimwear (Lycra) fabrics.
    Biker shorts. Remember biker shorts. I think you had a pair to match every soccer team you played for.

    Unlike Julie, I had lots of training — technique-technique-technique — but I am not so sure that’s what makes a good sewer. Techniques are important but so is a sense of design. After all, who has heard of a famous “sewer”? It is the designer that gets all the credit.

    This is where Julie shines. She has that special sense of design where she can combine fabrics, colors, and prints that are so unusal that she can come up with these wonderful projects.

    Each and every project is a new challange; whether it be the pattern or the fabric. Going from the unknown to the anticipated results to the final project that you can braggartly say — and very rightly so in my opinion — “I made it!”

    • midwestkids says:

      I retract I retract! Mom is totally right (when is she not?). Not *everyone* can sew but if you enjoy putting things together (and taking them apart), have good spatial orientation, can follow directions, have an eye for design and construction (and at times enjoy being frustrated beyond belief yet still curious how you will finish your project) you too should be able to succeed at sewing. ; D

      And my cover will stay for as long as I own Betty or as long as another sewing machine fits under it. I still can’t believe I made that thing with NO training what-so-ever. But it 1) functions and 2) is pretty (as long as you don’t get too close to the construction of it).

  3. Judy Dykhouse says:

    I enjoyed Julie’s comments– especially about her mother’s influence and talents– and her encouraging, amusing words and useful info about learning to sew. I saved one of her embedded techniques about hemming jeans with the original hem. I thought her mother’s comments were very true and amusing as well as encouraging and complimentary to Julie. I loved their loving comments about each other just as I love them for I’ve known them both for a very long time as friends and former neighbors. Have you seen the darling model in the family for the cute baby clothes Julie makes? They’re all great people!

    • midwestkids says:

      Judy that technique for hemming jeans works! I’ve hemmed 2 pair so far of $$$ designer jeans that were to long. They look great and you can’t even tell they were hemmed unless you look really really close (and who is ever that close to the hem of your pants)!

      Just be sure to measure well because if you stitch wrong (and with a good matching thread) it can be the dickens to tear out.

      Thanks for your comment! I had no idea I had extended my readership!

  4. Great post, Julie! Makes me think fondly of my childhood — my mom also sewed most of my clothes, and she still sews quilts for her grandkids. In fact, she’s sewing the most adorable quilt for Liam’s 2nd birthday, with roads and little buildings, and he can lay it on the floor like a map and play with little matchbox cars on it. Alas, the sewing gene has skipped over me. Perhaps if I have a cute little girl to sew dresses for, I might get interested again. Boy clothes don’t really inspire me 🙂

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: