Sunday, August 2, 2009

The Evolution of Home Sewing: An Interview with My Mom!

1964, gold satin (with shoes dyed to match!)

This is a very special edition of The Evolution of Home Sewing.

My mother is an extremely crafty person. Growing up, I remember the house being full of things that she had made at one point or another. There was a recipe box painted yellow with a shiny red apple decoupaged on top. A wooden rooster decorated with all different sizes and styles of nails. A macramed Santa with a long, fluffy beard. Every Christmas, we'd make a gingerbread house. One year, it was an exact replica of the house we lived in at the time.

We always had a sewing machine and my mom would make all my Halloween costumes and clothes for my Cabbage Patch dolls. She showed me old pictures from high school and college and told me she'd made the dresses she was wearing. Since I've been sewing from vintage patterns so much, I've been thinking of those dresses and wondering about my mother's dressmaking experiences. Read on for her answers to my questions!

How did you learn to sew? Do you recall any of your earliest projects?

I remember the very first time I sewed was when I was in the second grade and had sprained my ankle. For entertainment, my mother taught me to sew and handed me a dress that needed to be hemmed. I can still remember sitting on the couch and hemming one stitch at a time. After that, I started sewing clothes for my Ginny doll. I didn't have any patterns, just cut the fabric and made it work - sort of, anyway! Then when I was in the sixth grade, I joined 4-H and learned to actually make clothes. We had to make an elastic waist skirt with a matching scarf with fringed ends. Mine was green cotton and I had to model it in the Home Extension show. Then in Jr High, we got to take Home Ec and sewed on the machines at school.

Was it common for girls to make their own clothes when you were growing up?

It was not very common for girls to make their own clothes, but a lot of mothers sewed for their daughters.

1963, velvet bodice with brocade skirt

Did you make your dresses for all the dances you went to?

I think I did make all my dance dresses. My mother never took me shopping for those dresses - I think I just went and bought fabric and made them myself. I don't remember having any other options.

1964, Vogue pattern made in pink

What do you remember about the fabric stores you shopped at? Was there a wide variety of fabrics? What was it like shopping for patterns?

I lived in a small to medium size town. There were no fabric stores, but the department store had a fabric department. It was pretty limited - I guess you could compare it what you might find in a Walmart store today. But they had the major pattern books and I don't remember ever having a problem getting a pattern I wanted.

What's the garment you made that you're most proud of?

The favorite dress that I made was from a Vogue pattern. It had a tucked bodice with an empire waist, sleeveless. I made it in a bright green ( that must have been my favorite color then!) and it looked very professional. I was probably a senior in high school then. When I went to college, I didn't sew. I didn't have a sewing machine nor the time to sew. My first Christmas gift from my husband was a sewing machine - his motive was so I could repair his clothes. I sewed for a while then, until fabric and patterns became so expensive, that it was more cost-effective to buy ready-made clothing. Plus I was working full time and didn't have time to sew.

So there you have it - my life as a seamstress - until I started quilting!

P.S. Readers, I very much want to locate the pattern my mother used to make the dress at the top of this post. It looks like it has a scoop neck that dips into a v-shape at the center, a bow at the waist, and a bell-shaped skirt. It would have been from around 1964 (perhaps a year or two earlier). I don't know the pattern company. If you can correctly locate the pattern number for me, there's a prize involved--a $20 PayPal voucher. Which, of course, I hope you'll use for a fab new pattern of your own!


  1. This is priceless...and although I remeber my first sewing (for my Barbie, like your mom, I made the patterns and the garment), I remember fabric being a little easier to get, and in my town there was a very fine store that I still remember today - I would just go droll over some of the beautiful things. I still have a dress today with fabric bought from that store. I miss the stores and availability of fabric, cause I think so many people are missing out on not only saving money, but seeing their own dreams come true.

  2. Awesome interview! My mother fell into the category of girls whose clothes were all made by their mothers - she did very little sewing herself. She had a dress a lot like your mother's in the first pic - scoop neck though, and dark green velvet!

  3. I really enjoyed reading this. It must be great to share and talent and craft with your mother.
    I had to smile a bit when she mentioned that it became cheaper to buy ready to wear clothing than make it herself.
    It seems today there is a lack of ready to wear apparel, which is reasonably priced, good quality and stylish.
    I think we may have come full circle and it is again money saving to make ones clothes again.

  4. Gertie-- what a fun post! I will keep my eye out for the pattern. It has a nice scoop neck.

  5. i love that top dress! hope you discover which pattern it is. it would be a lovely one to have, especially since your mom made it years ago! love the whole idea.

  6. What a fantastic interview! :) Your mom is certainly very talented--I love all the gorgeous dresses you included photos of!

  7. Gertie - great post. I grew up in Brisbane. Your Mum looks so familiar ...was she a teacher?

  8. Gail, she grew up in Arkansas, so you two probably didn't cross paths!

    Thanks for keeping an eye out for the pattern, everyone. I have a fantasy of making the same dress in gold satin, like she did. :)

  9. I don't think it's the same pattern, but Vogue 5942 is very similar to your mom's dress. You can see the front and back of the pattern envelope here:

    I'll keep my eyes open for a more exact pattern. In the meantime, I'm enjoying reading about your sewing projects. You remind me that I need to get back to my sewing soon!

  10. Thanks, Kristin! That one is very similar. I'm finding a lot of lookalikes, but nothing with that unusual neckline. Thank you for keeping an eye out. I love your shop!

  11. Oh, it's not my shop. It's just the first place I found a picture of the front and the back of the envelope. I always like to see the line drawings to figure out what the pattern really looks like.

  12. Oh, sorry, Kristin. I totally misread what you were saying. But thanks still for looking for me! And for reading! :)

  13. Gertie,
    What a wonderful project. I also collect vintage sewing books, I have one from the 1920's that was given to me by one of the nuns at the local Catholic Diocesan Center - (I'm not even Catholic LOL but I did some volunteer work designing a computer system for their donations for a special project - but I digress) Anyway, this book was one of the texts they used when training the novices for sewing - it was ALL handwork.
    Here's my comment - I am probably the same age as your mother and all of those patterns look so familiar to me as I probably looked at them in the pattern books over and over. But that first dress looks very like a dress I made for a bridesmaids dress I wore for a friends wedding. The dress had a very slim narrow skirt but also had an overskirt which fastened with the bow you see at the front waist and was very full and opened at the front. The overskirt was made in the same fabric as the dress in the wedding I was in (bright turquoise and we wore the same bow as in the waistband on our head center front just over our bangs and there was a short veil attached that just covered the back of our hair. May not be the same pattern but it looks so similar I just thought I'd throw that idea out. I will be following your blos - I'm loving every minute of it - thanks for doing this.

  14. I had a dress very similar to the one your mum is wearing for my deb that me and my mum made. If I find the pattern I'll send you the number, but it would be about 11 years ago, and one of the major pattern companies (Simplicity, Vogue, Mc Calls) and in the formal section. Hope that helps. I'll have a look through my mums boxes and boxes and boxes of stuff for it, i'm sure if I find it then I can find the fabulous materials to!

  15. Did you ever find the pattern that you were looking for from this post? It's a lovely dress!


Thanks for your comments; I read each and every one! xo Gertie

© Gertie's Blog For Better Sewing. Powered by Cake