Who We Are: Generations of Sewists

There are many ways to learn to sew, including from YouTube, from books, from school, or from family. I learned to sew from my mom, who learned from her mother… who in a surprise twist, learned from her husband, my grandfather, who had learned from his mother during the Great Depression!

Earlier this year, we asked sewists to share how they learned to sew, and here are their stories:

LaKaribane

I come from a long line of seamstresses, going back at least five generations. My grandmother sewed for pleasure and for pay until she lost her sight to Glaucoma. We have albums full of photos of my mother and her four sisters sporting, first matching outfits (even my two uncles had shirts in the same fabric, LOL!) and, later, designer knock-offs. My Aunt went to teaching school and it included sewing at the time.
 
Ironically, I am self-taught. My grandmother and my aunt, avid seamstresses both, left the country before I was born and moved to Canada. My mother sewed a little but not as much as I myself have grown to do. So, without the guidance and example of my relatives, I mostly learned from using Burda magazines and envelope patterns. I sewed a bit as a teenager, mostly using the fabric from my mother’s, by then, decade-old unfinished projects. (There is no cure, people!)
 
My skills took a leap, however, in 2007, when I discovered sewing blogs (funnily, through reading blogs!) and Pattern Review. First, I subscribed to Threads magazine and followed blog tutorials. Then I bought reference books and online classes on Craftsy. Today, I can feel the difference in my sewing. Invisible zippers are a breeze (hope I don’t jinx myself by saying this *knocks on wood*) and buying specialized presser feet makes my topstitching perfect. It would probably have taken me much longer, on my own, to learn these things. I even find myself teaching a thing or two to my Aunt in Canada! I plan to become a sewing teacher in my next career because I love sewing so much, I would love to pass on my knowledge to another generation!

Deb from Piper Springs says,

I am from generations of sewists. My Nana grew up in the 30s, the youngest surviving daughter of a widow. Her family was Depression-era poor and survived on a pension from the railroad and what they could grow or raise in their backyard in El Paso, Texas.  She collected pictures of glamorously dressed movie stars in a scrapbook. My great grandmother taught her the basics of sewing, but she really learned to sew well from a kind neighbor.  As she married and benefited from the post war economy, she had the income to dress as she pleased. I remember trips to high end department stores where she would examine a garment inside and out, then head over to the fabric store to recreate it. She could sew anything, and she was as beautiful and glamorous as the movie stars she once admired.

Nana passed on her sewing skills to my mother, who made my sister and me lovely matching dresses every holiday. My mother taught me the basics of sewing, and Nana spent countless hours with me passing on her almost couture level skill.

When Nana died, my soul was grieving. As a working mom, I had put away my machine and only pulled it out for the occasional curtains or repairs. My way of dealing with the loss was to start sewing again. In particular, I began sewing from vintage patterns garments similar to ones my grandmother wore when she was a young mother. The connection I felt to her was strong and helped me heal. I also loved “meeting” the previous owners of vintage patterns whose names were written on the outside of the pattern envelopes. I love running my fingers over their carefully written signatures and imagining who they were and what fabric they might have sewn the pattern in. An even greater treat was when they left notes or fitting marks on the pattern, allowing me to learn from them. For many years I wore a mixture of mom clothes and vintage.

Nowadays I sew contemporary clothes, mostly from indie pattern companies. I write the occasional article about sewing and fashion history. Sewing is part of who I am because it connects me to the women who came before me. It allows me to feel a tangible connection to their daily lives and experiences. I come from generations of sewists, and so do you. It is my history. It is our history.

Becky from SewAdagio (@sewadagio) says, 

I live in an area where sewing doesn’t seem to be common, especially garment sewing. Every time the topic of local sewing communities come up online, I have never found another sewist in my state. Even though I’ve missed the experience of having local sewing friends, and often wished that an in person sewing class to learn new skills was a possibility, I do have a small sewing community within my own family. My mom has sewed for as long as I remember, as does my grandmother.  I grew up with a partially handmade wardrobe, and my mom spent many hours patiently teaching me how to sew myself starting when I was about 7. Even though quilting is more her passion than clothesmaking, she was still willing to help me work through the directions of the Big 4 patterns when I got confused or frustrated as a teenager trying to expand my skills without many of the online options that are now available to us.

Those hours spent sewing together have been such a huge part of building the relationship I have with my mom as an adult, and now I find myself returning the childhood lessons and helping her learn to sew with knits and the occasional indie clothes pattern! I’m honestly not sure if this is a hobby that I would have tried without her influence, especially when I was still young enough to be fearless in the types of things I’d try to make, confident enough to wear my creations out in public without worrying about what my classmates thought, and fully expecting to make lots of mistakes while learning. But I’m so glad that she was willing to share that with me. 

Hayee from @sewing_crochet says, 

I always used to be size 8 my entire life ; but since I got blessed with my first born I have gained weight, and now I am size 12 upper body and 14 lower body. I struggle a lot while shopping for clothes so instead of buying ready made clothes I make them myself.

Whenever I design, make pattern and sewing I feel relaxed from my stressed daily life. Sewing for me is like ME time, time for myself to enjoy what I love.

As a child I always saw my mum sewing clothes for me and for my siblings. When I grew up my interest got stronger and somehow I landed in fashion studio of Alexander McQueen and my real designing and sewing journey started from there.

Ashley Olanna says, 

I was born and raised in Nome, Alaska. I currently live in Anchorage with my husband and our two kids. I have been a stay at home mom and now help out at my kids elementary school part time.

Growing up I enjoyed arts and crafts but never had the opportunity to use a sewing machine. I am the first in my family to learn to sew. This all begin seven years ago when my husband bought me my first sewing machine as a Christmas gift. It was a basic Singer from Walmart. The sewing machine sat in my closet for about 10 months, until I said to my husband “Okay, teach me how to use this thing.” My husband was taught by his mother basic sewing skills when he was young. He showed me how to use the sewing machine and helped me learn to sew.

I was excited and felt very accomplished after making a few small things. I continued practicing every day. After a few weeks, I was experimenting and making simple tote bags and quilts. They were not very pretty but I was trying and improving my skills each day!

I am very grateful for my husband’s Christmas surprise seven years ago which has led to my love and passion for sewing. I now have my own sewing room, a small sewing business and three Bernina sewing machines. Whenever my husband says something about my fabric stash I always say to him “You started all this!” 🙂

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Danielle from Orange Panda Designs says,

I come from a generation of sewists.  My nana knitted and crocheted.  She actually made me my first Miss Piggy (when the Muppets were popular).  She found the head and crocheted the body.  I loved that doll.  Needless to say, 40 years later, I have no idea where it is now.  But I remember going to a store with her and she would buy all these doll heads with hair.  Maybe as a child, that may freak someone out but I was enamored with it.  She passed away when I was 7.  I wondered what she could have taught me if she had not passed on.

But thankfully I have my mom.  My mom has sewn my whole life.  From making me matching short and shirt outfits for the summer (I had an issue with matching) to making my prom dress, and the bridesmaids dress for my sister’s wedding.  I took a sewing class at my school in 9th grade and made a pair of shorts.  My mom signed me up for a sewing lesson at a local sewing shop when I was 16.  I think I made a pajama set.  One would think I would have learned something, but no.  I just had no interest. 

Fast forward to one of my friend’s having her first baby.  I wanted to make her a quilt.  I went to a local quilt shop and found a book on how to make a quilt step by step.  From there, I was buying quilting magazines and started creating my own quilting designs.  I love the idea of quilts, any size any color, it all comes together like a puzzle.  From there, I made a Wedding Quilt for my wedding and based it on the colors of my wedding. 

Since then I have opened an Esty shop where I sell Handmade Handbags and Accessories.  I still make quilts, have learned to hand embroider, and have started to dabble in jewelry making.  I have tried to go back to sewing clothes but I think it’s a lost cause for now and that’s okay.  My mom and sister make amazing clothes.  Now that I have a little girl of my own, she is being introduced to the world of sewing.  You’re never too young to learn to be crafty.

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And a very different learning experience, as shared by Danita from Designs by Danita

It feels like forever, but I must admit my sewing history is a bit unusual. When I was a child and in dance recitals, my mom used to finish my costumes using safety pins. She never sewed a button in her life. By age 10 I decided I needed to learn the skill. This is exactly how my mom “taught” me: She sat me down in front of a sewing machine with the instruction book, a pattern, some material and said, “It’s just like following a recipe.” I remember doing the project. It was a pair of shorts. And it was hard. But I did it and I really enjoyed making something myself.

Finally, an inspiring contribution from Scott, who taught himself to sew for his wife’s benefit: 

My wife survived two heart attacks two years ago which brought on Alzheimer’s. In her recovery she began embroidering. There was a limit to how many of these items the family could absorb. That was when she turned to quilting 

Sewing is not my greatest skill, but after several hours on YouTube I gleaned enough knowledge to begin a simple quilting project. She embroiders the squares and I made them into blocks. So far have 10 of 35 ready to join in a quilt-as-we-go method. I’m a writer, not a tailor by any stretch, but I can sew a straight, flat seam. 

My point: seeing her labor go somewhere other than into a bottom drawer has provided her with the incentive to forge ahead. She’s healing. There is magic in needle and thread. We well celebrate 56 years this June.
Wow, eh? We all arrived at sewing in such different ways, but each person’s story highlights the joy sewing brings. I showed my six-year-old niece how to sew for the first time recently, and now I’m inspired to make sure we continue that tradition!