My Mama Taught Me to Sew

I first used a sewing machine when I was in 7th grade. Or was it 8th grade? Okay, I'm not sure if it was 7th or 8th grade but I made a gray sweatshirt for middle school Home Economics class and, truth be told, it was not that good. I remember fighting with the elastic ribbing around the cuffs and waistband while questioning my decision to go ahead with the sweatshirt project at all. My elastic band bunched up under the presser foot and my sweatshirt was not the custom fit I'd been promised. It fit. But not like I hoped.

Fast-forward about five years. I was a senior in high school and proudly told my guidance counselor that I was dropping calculus to take a sewing class instead. He tossed some papers onto his desk and exhaled dramatically and then proceeded to lecture me about getting into colleges and necessary scholarships and while I mostly tuned-out I do remember him asking, "And when are you ever going to use sewing again in your life?". Oh, yes, high school.

Fast-forward again but just a few months later. I was finishing my final project for my sewing class (a calf-length sundress, mind you, purple and white flower print, very full skirt, tank top, empire waist, complete with matching lavender buttons at the neckline) and my mother insisted I stitch the hemline by hand. By hand? By hand. As you can imagine, the thought of stitching a blind stitch by hand to finish the very full skirt was nothing short of tortuous. I thought she had lost her mind.

Now, my recollection is that I stayed up for hours stitching that hemline for school the next morning. My mother's recollection, however, is that I stitched only a few stitches and then she stayed up for hours finishing the hemline for me. Admittedly, I'm certain she is right and my memory is the rosy-colored one. But, regardless, we got an A! Yes "we". And the teacher made special comment about that hand stitched hem. (Thanks, Mama.) The sewing class taught me how to read a pattern, how to use fancy materials like interfacing, and how to take measurements, but my mama taught me to sew.

Fast-forward another two years. I was hooked on dressmaking. Simple, empire waist, tank top, short and long dresses. There was a frog print I adored. A series of stripes and florals and plaids. But our first love is hard to forget, right? That lilac print dress with the matching lavender buttons? Still my favorite of the batch. I sold a number of dresses at a local boutique while I was making my way through college. This was before Etsy. Before I knew the term "DIY". Before I ever read a blog. Because, eh hem, this was before I had an email account. Gasp! This was just what I was doing to make some extra money between classes. Instinct--we always circle back to it, I swear.

And so. This morning as I put the finishing touches on my blue & orange reconstructed dress, I couldn't help but stitch the hemline by hand (dear Mama). And I didn't huff or puff. I didn't frown or twist or even curse. Instead I stitched a blind stitch and noticed how it didn't pucker or gather or jam the fabric but how it allowed for so much more accuracy than machine sewing. I noticed how quickly it went in comparison to applique or embroidery. And I even went so far as to stitch the sleeves by hand too. Just because, I suppose.

And, that said, it seems the sewing class was more useful than the calculus class after all, huh, Mr. Guidance Counselor? You know, just for the record.



  1. Ah...I remember making the sweatshirt in Home Ec. as well. My mom sewed all of our Halloween costumes and she taught me how to sew buttons, and use a sewing machine. Unfortunately I lost touch with the art shortly after that Home Ec. class and didn't get back into it until well after college. I now look at patterns or pretty shirts/dresses in the store and think to myself, I could probably do that, if I had more skills.

    Alas, I have done nothing more than make a few simple dresses for my daughter and simple elastic waist skirts for myself.

    I admire your creativity and talent and the shirt you just completed is absolutely beautiful. Maybe someday I will learn more than the basics myself.

  2. I love the "new" dress. So cute! (And yes, I remember all the hippy dresses. BUT! Do you remember that pair of patchwork pants you made? Those were amazing! So. much. work. and I think you made $90, all said and done.)

  3. What a great story! So sweet! I remember my mom insisting that I take a typing class in high school and rolling my eyes how little I would use this ability. Fast forward twenty-five years and I notice I'm one of the few who know how to type properly. Sad she passed away before computers came into our homes so she never knew how helpful her tip was. Thanks, mom!

  4. smile... i love the opposing recollections ;)

  5. haha. wonderfully told. and supercute dress!

  6. I love seeing these photos and reading your words... I learned to sew early on (though now no longer do... at the moment, that is) and made all manner of dolls and clothes from coloured felt.

    g xo

  7. belly: any sewing is better than no sewing at all. dresses for your daughter sound lovely.

    shauna: yes! i'm imagining updating those hippie dress patterns for urban bohemian 30 somethings. okay, for me! and those patchwork pants. oy. i think they were 30 hours of work.

    kathryn: yes, yes. i had to take typing too. and driver's ed. thanks to our mamas, for sure.

    lisa: the magician of memory, right?

    shash: thank you! i haven't rebuilt a dress for myself in years. it was great fun.

    gracia: oh, i would love to see your early felt dolls. something tells me they were exquisite.


Thank you for your comments, friends. I like to think we are creating a dialogue in this space--building a virtual community.