Since the clocks went back I’ve been fighting a spate of winter bugs. So even if I’ve had the time to sew, I’ve been opting for my bed. I’m slowly working on H’s Christmas dress, as we’re on a deadline with that one. But everything else can wait until I feel like I can come out of hibernation.
I thought I’d document my thoughts on my sewing heritage, as I often ponder it when I am at the machine.
In my life, I like things minimal. I don’t like to have clutter and I’m not one to keep many things for sentimental reasons. But sometimes a few objects survive. Lately however, I have been pondering gifts from the past that don’t have a physical form. I’m not going all ghostbusters here, I just mean things that are passed on through your genes.
I never knew my maternal grandmother, but I think of her often when I sew. I know from my mum that she was a talented seamstress and could cover a sofa after one look at it. I think she also enjoyed sewing too as well as using it to help pay the bills. Her sister-in-law, my Great Aunt, taught classes in sewing as a hobby and it’s thanks to her legacy that I could buy my beloved Pfaff all-singing-all-dancing sewing machine. Two generations ago, all women sewed their own, my mum sewed her own; my generation is somewhat clueless.
My mum certainly didn’t love to sew, but could do so. I have always hankered after being able to sew, in fact my pin cushion is the same one I made when I was really young. So as well as the soft toys in one day childhood sewing I did as explained here. In my later teens, my mum let me sew on her mums Jones machine. She didn’t like it when I cranked the handle as fast as I could; I didn’t like it when the bobbin ran out – lord knows how you re threaded it. Later in my teens mum showed me how to lay out a pattern and line up with the grain properly. She bought me a dressmakers dummy for one of my birthdays (only used for its proper purpose about 2 months ago!) I think I bought my lovely vintage machine then too. Mum explained the terminology in the patterns and helped through gritted teeth. But I never really got the hang of sewing and anything I did was never truly wearable. Looking back at the patterns that I used, I am not surprised – I wouldn’t wear that dowdy sh*t now either. Thank goodness for independent pattern makers of the 21st century.
My mum’s not on my doorstep so everything I have learned about sewing comes from books, the internet and YouTube! But sometimes I wonder, has anything passed on though the genes? Since day one I’ve always wanted a great finish on the inside – my fake overlocking stitch brings me disproportionate joy. There have been times when I’ve done something and then thought, how did I know to do that? For example, I thread outside threads back into the inside by hand with a needle. I don’t remember reading about this technique nor do I remember deciding to start doing it. Finally, after years and years of wishing I could sew, I realised when watching the god-awful-but-compelling Project Runway All Stars, that for the first time ever, I can actually say I am able to make clothes. I can make clothes and wear at least 50% of them.
I know that my daughter won’t like sewing already. She just won’t. Its sod’s law. But aswell as thinking back to the sewing ladies and upholstering gents that are in my ancestry, I also dream about the future. Of teaching H to sew, starting her little sewing kit, letting her sift through the button box that we all remember doing as a child. I’d love to make her outfits that reflect her passion of the moment, help her design party dresses or god-forbid some kind of EMO-gothic cloak. It’s wonderful when she sits on my lap helping to feed through the fabric when I’m sewing. My biggest dream is that we’ll have a studio and sit side by side talking for hours. I already know how very unlikely this will be.
It is desperately sad how all this sewing heritage that we have is disappearing. My great-aunt made this dress completely by hand. Even the smocking. It’s flawless! Look at the reverse – did I get my clean inside obsession from her? It was a gift for one of us as a baby. Can you imagine the love and good intention that is in each stitch? You can’t pass that on with a cute outfit from Mothercare. For my mum and the women (and men) before her – making your clothes was a necessity. For me it’s a hobby and for my daughter, who knows? But along the way it is desperately sad to lose the skills, knowledge and love that accumulate in one garment. I do hope we can keep it going.
As alway, I’d love to read your comments. Fingers crossed for a healthy Christmas holiday and tonnes of time to sew!
Jones photo = By Panjigally – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=13312600