Growing up, some of my earliest memories were my mom at her sewing machine making clothes for my sisters and I. Money was always tight, so it was a way to save a few dollars. Pajamas, dresses, Halloween costumes, even a beloved rag doll all took shape with the warm hum of her machine. As a child, I was in awe. As far as I was concerned, my mother was the premier fashion seamstress of upstate New York! Little did I know that she was just learning and often took out seams, went to the fabric store for help reading instructions and dreaded putting in zippers.
When I was around 7 years old, my mother gave me my first lesson on the machine. She cut out several layers of fabric in the shape of a square and finished the edges and then I sewed inside to "quilt" it as a potholder! It was magic, it was fun and I was hooked! (And my dear mother made a point to use it for years, till it fell apart!
I made simple clothing for my dolls and beloved teddy bear T.B (for Teddy Bear of course). Sometimes I would save my allowance and buy 1/4 of a yard of fabric at the local TG&Y to make into a doll blanket or something.
At the age of 12, I made my first outfit for myself from a pattern. It was 1975 and that thick ugly polyester was so the rage. I found coordinating fabrics in pink and teal and still cringe when I think about it! The pattern looked something like this:
Oh yeah, the height of fashion. And see those pockets? I did them in the same pattern as the pants, with the rest of the jacket in the coordinating fabric. And of course that was that lovely top-stitching around the edges of the pockets. Come on, admit it, you are jealous!
Anyhow, I must have driven my mother crazy, asking questions every ten seconds. "Mom, what is a selvage? What is nap? What is the wrong side? How do you make a dart? What are notches?" But we both survived and I moved on to make many more patterns (in better taste) over the years with far less questions.
The sewing machine I worked on had belonged to my Grandmother. Mom had a newer Singer, but I worked on one that looked a bit like this:
The manual showed the two models made at the time: trundle and the very modern electric one. Luckily we had the electric one. At the bottom right you wound bobbins. The machine did a straight stitch, reverse and had a really cranky attachment that sort of made buttonholes when you squinted. It loved to chew up the bobbin thread and turn it into a ball of thread, but hey, it worked.
My Grandfather bought this machine for my Grandmother during the Great Depression. Each day he walked to and from work. Each day he passed the shop that sold the machine. and would go in, look at it and haggle with the shop keeper on the price. I think the shop keeper finally gave up to get rid of my grandpa after weeks of this. For her, sewing clothes was not an option but a necessity. She even sewed my mother's underwear! I know this, because even to this day, my mother complains about how Grandma used too little elastic in the legs and once washed, the elastic would shrink and cut off all blood supply to her legs!
And now, my 13 year old daughter wants to learn to sew on a machine and had her first lesson last week with me. No fingers were pierced, all limbs are still attached, it was a great start. I have found a beginners machine made by Singer and think it may be her Christmas gift this year. Meanwhile my daughter is planning to alter some skinny jeans to something very cool and unique with Capri Sun juice packets as patches and funky embroidery. While her style may be a bit different than my own, it is a wonderful happy feeling to be passing on the skills to her.