Monday, March 23, 2009

My Sewing Back Story: Part 1, Geneology

I'm in Miami this week. Hopefully these posts will post in an orderly fashion!

So LindsayT asked about this a while ago[ and I've really enjoyed everyone else's stories, so I'll throw mine into the mix. I warn you that I am a prolific writer. You'll probably need a coffee/glass of wine (depending on time of day) and a snack!

Both of my grandmothers sewed and my mom sewed as well. With all of them, it was at least partly a necessity thing rather than an enjoyment thing. It's hard for me to conceive of a time without cheap, mass-produced, [sweatshop], throwaway clothes but I'm told such a time existed. Both of my parents were raised by single mothers at a time that this was Not Done and money was very tight in both households. My mom stayed at home, so she did all the thrifty things as well.

Nana, My Paternal Grandmother

Unfortunately, my Nana, my dad's mother, had pretty much stopped sewing by the time my memory starts. I am told that she was really talented and turned out copies of all the fashionable clothes for her six daughters (and my dad), and I know she sewed for me when I was a little girl as well--and keep in mind I was one of 22 grandchildren and countless great-grandchildren! My mom still talks about her perfect blind hems.

She was very clever. In addition to making copies of fashionable clothes, one of my dad's favorite stories is that one year there was an It sweater brand. Apparently, people would come up behind you and flip your neckline down to look at the tag on your sweater and see if it was the right brand. The sweaters themselves were not actually anything special. So for Christmas Nana went to Penney's and got regular sweaters. Then she haunted thrift stores and rag piles for sweaters of the It brand that had been ruined and given away. She accumulated enough, cut out the tags, sewed them into the Penney's sweaters, and nobody was the wiser!
I have waxed and waned in sewing throughout my life and unfortunately when my Nana passed away I was in a waning phase and didn't want much from her sewing room. I regret this very much! None of my cousins do much sewing so nobody would have minded had I wanted more.

Buttons from NanaI took a bunch of buttons, which make all the projects I use them on very special. The top button on my Greek Tablecloth Shirtdress is one of hers, as well as the jacket button on my Vogue 8123 jacket and shift combo, and the halter neck button on the McCall 4444 dress I'm wearing in the tutorial Amber in Norfolk put on her blog for an easy skirt. This dress pre-dated my discovery of PR and blogging and is not documented anywhere so unfortunately no pics of the button. I made it for July 4th, 2004, I believe.

I later inherited two of her pressing hams when I asked my parents for a pressing ham for Christmas and my mom surprised me with them! I had no idea she'd claimed them from the sewing room and she knew how much it would mean to me to have them. I think of my Nana every time I sew.

NanaOutfitBut the most important thing I inherited from Nana was my fashion sense. She was a fashionable lady and she was never sloppy looking if she could help it (in later years she didn't have the strength or finally the mental ability to keep up her appearance, and it was really hard to see her like that). My mother and maternal grandmother are much more practical dressers. I can trace my Retro Fantasy directly to my Nana. I have a baby dress that she sewed for me, and one of her favorite RTW outfits. My Popsie wanted me to have it when she passed on. I put it on and he said it was as though she had just walked into the room. It is a cherished possession.

Grandma M, My Maternal Grandmother

My maternal Grandmother is plus-sized and always sewed for herself because it was impossible to find ready to wear. She has an old machine from the 50s that is still ticking. As a girl, I loved going into her sewing room and playing with her pattern weights. They were a white set of weights that were not quite cylinders because they flared out a bit at the top and the bottom was green felt. There were six of them in a special case and I had to be very careful to return them all to the case when I was done.

Rings from My Grandmother, 2008This Christmas she asked me what I wanted and I asked for something of hers. She asked what I had in mind and I said maybe jewelry, or buttons, or a dish, or something. She let me dig through her jewelry and I found some rings I just loved. I told her to choose which one to give me and she gave me three! I am hoping we can institute a new tradition. I would love to "inherit" something of hers as gifts rather than get something mass-produced from a store.

Family Legacy of YarnI'm hoping for buttons next, or maybe the pattern weights. But she might still be using them; she has her cutting board set up in her bedroom, and the sewing machine is out and dust free. Mainly she is a knitter, though. I always have several pairs of slippers in my pajama drawer, and I have two afghans she's made me that keep me warm in winter. The purple afghan on the left is one she made to match my decor (my mom crocheted the one on the right, also to match my decor).

Unfortunately, I don't know anything about sewing further back in the family tree, though I'm sure it was there.

My Mom

Growing up my mom sewed most of our clothes. Of course, as a kid I thought this was the worst! What had I done to deserve such punishment? I wanted the fashionable brand-name clothes my friends wore--I grew up in LA, after all. I felt the same way about her homemade bread. I thought pre-sliced bread was so superior to the loaves she made. Nowadays I sew most of my own clothes and make my own bread. It's terrible when you grow up and turn into your mom, isn't it?

I recall that going to House of Fabrics was a real treat. Not because I particularly cared for it, but it always put her in a good mood. Hmmm, I think this is a trait I inherited. I would climb up onto a stool and look at the big pattern books, where were stored on a metal file cabinet specifically designed with a slanted top and a ledge to hold the books. As I got older, I would sometimes choose my own patterns and fabrics for what I wanted her to make for me.

Pattern EnvelopeAlthough she sewed for necessity, she also enjoyed it. She took a Stretch and Sew class in the 70s--I still have one of her patterns and continue to sew from it. Since she sewed knits like they were no big deal I never got hung up on the knit phobia many sewists experience. At some point she and a friend started a small business making nursing tops. I don't know how far off the ground it got, but I know they were both excited about it.

She always made us new dresses for special occasions. She often made me and my sister matching or coordinating outfits, which we loved. We are two years apart but always liked to pretend we were twins; we were usually the same size because my sister grew faster than me and was always caught up even though she's two years younger. One Christmas she sewed me and my sister rag dolls. We were Mary and Laura Ingalls FREAKS and were very excited to receive real life rag dolls. They were made from nylon(?) socks and had yarn hair. I named mine Carrie (after Mary and Laura's little sister, natch) and she was my constant companion for many, many years. She is still somewhere in my parents house. Her face has so many runs in it there's not much left of it and I think she's lost a couple of limbs, but I could never get rid of her.

BlueGreenCapeFrontI spent long hours lounging around my mom's feet as she sewed. She didn't get a sewing room until all of us kids moved out of the house and her sewing nook was always in the master bedroom (my dad didn't seem to object; he never did any sewing himself). We would play with the scraps, and eventually started turning them into Barbie clothes. I mostly learned to sew by osmosis.

My mom doesn't sew too much nowadays, she is more of a crocheter, see afghan above and the little capelet to the right. But it is a big tradition that she always makes my nephews a new pair of pajamas for Christmas every year.

Coming up:

Part 2, Learning to Sew

Part 3, All Grown Up


Kim Hood said...

I'm glad that i'm not the only on who has turned into my mum. I also hated having 'home-made clothes' and cakes etc that she had baked herself. I now realise how lucky I was and hope my own daughter feels the same in time.

Sewfast said...

I chuckled at your comment about turning into your Mom...I think as women that is our greatest fear and there always comes a defining moment that confirms we have become our mother. I have apologized to my son-in-law in advance! :) Thanks for sharing your back story.

Lindsay T said...

Thanks for taking the time to write this. Wow, you really have sewing in your blood.

Yeah, we all turn into our mothers.

Debbie Cook said...

Loving your writing, and the story! Can't wait for the next installment.

Dana said...

What wonderful memories! Had to laugh about the label thing. My mom made a 3-piece denim suit for one of my brothers and added old Levi's labels on each piece!

tcarole said...

I just went into my sewing room this evening to start to sew and I thought about you and this post. I read it this morning even though when I saw how long it was, I thought, "I'm never going to read all of that." But I did and it was really touching and well-written. If I were your mother or Nana, or Grandma M, I'd be very proud of you.

I was thinking about you, even though I don't even know you personally, because I appreciate how much effort you put into your sewing and, even more, that you put so much into sharing what you learn by posting it on your blog. I decided I could not sewing tonight until I made an effort to thank you.

I'm not sure how I came across your blog originally, but I subscribe in Google Reader and now it's almost always one of the first I'll read.

I think we're about the same size so not only does your creativity inspire me, but its great to see how things look on someone with my body shape and what you learn about making it work. I benefit from your mistakes and successes before I even make the first cut.

Anyway, a long post just to say thank you for all your efforts. They inspire me and get me all excited about my own projects. I wish I could do a little more with my own little sewing blog but as long as I'm creating, I'm happy.

Keep up the good work and if you ever come out to San Francisco and need a fabric shopping trip, let me know! I'd be happy to show you my haunts.


tcarole said...

Oh, and I just got my first Burda magazine yesterday, inspired by you and the many other great sewers online that love the patterns. I can hardly wait to trace my first one. Any advise as to how to get even seam allowances?

Ingrid said...

I really enjoyed reading this, like you my mother sewed and made most of our clothes which I detested (I think mostly as they were too girly/frilly for my liking). I am now the only one of three sisters obsessed by sewing and last night my mother gave me a lovely green knit dress she made in the 70s as she knew I was the only one who would appreciate it. I was very touched.
Can't wait to hear more of your story!

Vicki said...

How nice. Thanks for sharing. Sounds like you have sewing in the blood. As a mother, I think what is wrong with daughters turning out just like mum?...but as a daughter - horror! lol.

Holly said...

I came across your blog while searching Flickr for a Butterick pattern I want to try (4790). I loved your post, I think many of us who sew had mothers who sewed our clothes (I also had matching outfits with my sister Addie)out of necessity. Now I am all grown up and a CPA, and trying to juggle tax/audit season while putting together my "wish list" of things I want to sew after April 15. I'm calling it my "Super Sewing Marathon."