I'm a sewing enthusiast in Beacon, New York, with a love of all things retro. This site is all about tutorials, tips, inspiration, and lots of spirited discussion about sewing as it relates to fashion history, pop culture, body image, and gender. My first book, Gertie's New Book for Better Sewing, is now out from STC Craft/Melanie Falick Books! Also look for my line "Patterns by Gertie" from Butterick.
I'd bet a lot of us have our mothers to thank for first teaching us how to sew. (Thanks, Mom!) So in honor of Mother's Day, I thought I'd repost my interview with my mother from last August, just in case you missed it. Enjoy . . . and Happy Mother's Day!
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!