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.
I 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.
But 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.
This 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.
I'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.
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.
Although 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.
I 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.
Part 2, Learning to Sew
Part 3, All Grown Up