Saturday, July 11, 2009

Sewing again

Sewing used to be a necessary skill for a woman. The nobility learned fancy work; the regular folk learned to make garments. I learned both back in the dark ages of public school when Home Economics was on the required classes list. Now sewing is pretty much optional for most people; a luxury of time they don't have. I find it odd that sewing clothing is now considered a "free time" activity even by most people who enjoy sewing, have some skill at it, and can make practical items.

A few years ago I was talking with a group of women, all mothers with daughters, about my desire to make some clothes for my girl. One scoffed at me, saying clothing is so cheap it doesn't make sense to take the time to make it. She suggested thrift stores and garage sales. I commented that I just never seem to find good stuff at thrift stores, and she agreed that it takes a lot of time: going frequently (or being first at the garage sale) because good stuff disappears quickly, examining the clothes carefully, picking through unsorted piles and racks.

Hm, I thought but didn't say: why is spending all that time shopping better than spending it sewing? I can make a dress pretty cheaply. Oh, not garage sale cheap. But a pattern can be reused, and 2 yards of fabric will make a girl's dress with leftovers for the doll. I usually buy fabric when it's about $2 a yard, patterns at about $3. (Though as I peruse sewing blogs I'm seeing all sorts of patterns not carried in the stores, and they are intriguing, though more expensive.) Thread, interfacing, zippers, trims add to the cost, sure. But it still doesn't have to be expensive, and I'd much rather spend the time with my daughter sewing the garment, teaching her, than going from store to store trying to find appropriate clothing.

Because, you know, the clothing in the thrift stores is mostly the same clothing in the department stores, and most of it is not what we want anyway. It's hard for a girl who doesn't like sequins, beads, sparkles, or words on her clothing to find anything in the stores. This is not a good time to be a preteen girl with a sense of modesty and a desire for pretty clothes. Of course opinions on that differ. But most moms I know agree with me that the offerings in the stores, except high-end merchants like Lands' End and Hannah Andersson, are pretty bleak.

So, we try to sew. My old Home-Ec skills are a little rusty. I avoid zippers when possible, though I can install one that works and looks OK if it's not examined carefully. I'm going to learn now to make buttonholes by hand. Ever since I ruined a jacket back in 1992 by using the buttonholer on my machine (badly) I've been scard of them. But this spring and summer we've made a dress, a tiered skirt, a pair of shorts, a sunhat*, a patchwork tablecloth, and some pajama pants. Today we're cutting out another dress.

My girl helps me, some. She pins a little, but it's tedious and she gets excused after a while. Then she comes back to help cut for a bit. Once the actual sewing starts she will run a few straight seams. I do most of the work. OK, just about all of it. But she is nearby working on her own little projects, jumping in to help when she can, chatting with me. She has a supply of fabric scraps and can use the machine. So she makes little purses and things for her dolls and generally putters in a sewing sort of way. So she is gaining skills too, and soon she'll have the patience to pin, mark, and cut out a whole dress.

*The sunhat was made from a free Simplicity pattern a friend alerted me to. (The photo is from the site; that's not me or my girl.)

We used some leftover fat quarters from some planned but never-executed project. I adjusted the pattern by making the crown a little shorter and the brim a little bigger. It's a great sunhat and not too hard to make. I recommend practicing with some cheap muslin or other scrap fabric before attempting the real thing. I have some old curtain linings I use for that purpose. A worn bed sheet works well too. I guess we could have used the sewing time to shop at garage sales and thrift stores, but this was a lot more fun.


Sandy said...

It's one of my big regrets that I never learned to sew. I hope to do better for my girls, but so far it's been sketchy. I'm looking for a class for them.

Anonymous said...

Ok now, I want to see the finished product on the *real* girl.

~*~The Family~*~ said...

To make sewing more affordable my mom use to cut the elastic waist band out of our old clothes. It is already the right size if going into jammies or shorts if the wearer hasn't changed size. She also cut out zippers, buttons, lace, or anyother do-dads that were on clothes.