Sewing Inspiration

I’ve reported here about the sewing group – Chi Stitch – I run with Karen from The Draper’s Daughter.  We now have a lovely group of regulars who come along with a myriad of sewing and crafting projects and I find the whole experience inspiring – even if I don’t always get a lot of sewing done!

This has set me off thinking about my sewing inspiration generally.   I know both my grandmothers sewed and knitted, although I really only remember seeing my paternal grandmother in action.  She was Scottish and knitted very fast on long needles tucked under her arms.  During the Second World War I know that she knitted socks, gloves and balaclavas for soldiers.

My mother has always sewed, knitted, crocheted and generally made stuff  – and still does.   My dad was also an inveterate maker of things.  He made model boats with working steam engines, built furniture and kitchen units, made wooden toys.  He could turn his hand to just about anything.   I’m ashamed to say that I never really took the opportunity when I was younger to benefit as much as I could have done from their skills and knowledge.  There were other things that seemed of much more interest to me!  That’s not to say that we didn’t make things.  We were deprived of television for many years “for the good of our education” so we had to fill the time somehow when we weren’t sloping off to our friends’ houses to watch TV there.  Amongst other things we made rudimentary dolls’ clothes, knitted yards of woollen ‘tubes’ with the Knitting Nancy and made a mess with papier mâché.

At  secondary school I did needlework for the first three years.  Our teacher was sadly not inspirational.  We were taught the basics and I remember making a striped apron with a patchwork embellished pocket and a really hideous dress that I never wore.  Despite the lack of inspiration, I was quite good at sewing and remember one test when I had to pass my very neat seam finish samples to my friend behind me to copy because she had no idea what she was doing! Another friend and I always recall the time when she was sewing the pocket to her apron and it ended up attached to her skirt!

Of much more importance to me was my Food & Nutrition (aka Cookery) teacher who I have never forgotten.  She was a tiny and very feisty Welsh lady called Mrs Jones who I really liked – and she really liked me because I paid attention.  Not something I was necessarily well known for in some other lessons.  She taught me pretty much everything I needed to know and a few things I didn’t.  I honestly don’t think I’ll ever make my own flaky pastry – but I could if I wanted to.  I certainly won’t be stuffing a heart or sousing a herring!  Here’s Mrs Jones in the centre of the photograph.

Fast forward a number of years and after various forays into assorted crafts I decided I wanted a sewing machine.  I acquired a basic Singer and started making bags.  I also used it for sewing paper which probably didn’t do it the world of good, although it’s still working as my colleague now has it and is using it to make a new set of seat cushions for his boat!

Having decided I would like to try making clothes I popped into The Eternal Maker to ask Anna if they were planning to offer dressmaking classes.  She said they would if they could find someone to teach them.  I put her in touch with a friend of a friend and I started a six week course of lessons with Cath.  I made a skirt which turned out surprisingly well and we moved on to a second six week course.  After that we set up a little sewing group which met in the conference room at my office for a few months and I was on the road to a sewing obsession!

Back to Chi Stitch and I was so pleased last month when Cath came along for the first time! Without her I probably would have carried on sewing bags and paper decorations and never met all my lovely sewing friends.  Here she is with her knitting on the table reserved for Catherines – @cathysewsstuff is next to her and Catherine opposite her!  Karen is also there – her name does start with the right sound!

I can’t believe this picture was taken a month ago.  The next Chi Stitch is tonight at St George’s Church Hall in Cleveland Road, Chichester from 7.00 – 9.00 pm.  Everyone is welcome.

Just going back to school needlework teachers.  My sister, who can sew but doesn’t, had a sewing teacher whose response to anyone referring to “material” was “fabric dears, fabric”.  It’s an entrenched phrase in my family which we often repeat automatically when someone says “material” and then have to offer an explanation!

 

 

 

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12 thoughts on “Sewing Inspiration

  1. Aah, memories. My sewing teacher was a bitch who called me ‘gormless’ and my cookery teacher was a tiny Oriental woman who was constantly sniffing and wiping her nose with her hand so we never wanted to taste anything she’d made. Amazing that I’ve turned out to like both sewing and cooking. Lovely to have a sewing group locally but I bet there’s lots of chatting too – and cake?

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    • There is a LOT of chatting – and cake – but I’m always impressed by how much work gets done too! I just cannot recall anything about our sewing teacher but Mrs Jones was brilliant!

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  2. Jane, I love this entry. I tried to start a “Sources of our craft” series a year or so ago, but it didn’t catch on. I find this type of history fascinating. It tells stories about women’s history, education history, family history, etc.

    I did learn to sew in school but I don’t even remember my sewing teachers. I’m pretty sure that we only made aprons and tote bags and I already knew how to make those. I remember having to take one semester of sewing and a following semester of industrial shop. I probably enjoyed the shop portion more because no one at home would allow me to play with power tools and machines, but I had been playing with my mother’s sewing machine since I was very little. (My mother sewed quite a bit when I was small, but never with joy – it was a chore for her that she happily abandoned when she could (when she had more money, when I stopped whining for her to make me nice dresses…)

    Funny story about my cookery teacher in grade 7 (who likely was also my sewing teacher): I remember that we had to buy our own ingredients to make a menu for the class. Later on I found out that there was a school budget for the ingredients and she had been arrested for making off with the money instead of buying our stuff! I cooked and baked with my great grandmother, grandmother and mother from a very young age, as I loved to be in the kitchen with them, so lessons in school were really more of a repeat of things I already knew how to do. I learned bread making from my grandmother, fruit preserves from my great grandmother and everything else from my mom. My mom was already making diverse menus from different cultures in the 1970s and 80s, so I was lucky. She was a real experimenter and also grew our veg in the back garden. Back then, North America was white bread and cheese whiz and jello land, so my mom was way ahead of her time. They’re just catching up to her now.

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      • So glad you enjoyed this post – and I really enjoyed reading your comment! Fancy your teacher making off with the ingredients money! That is quite a story. We had to lug all our ingredients to school and then carry the finished dishes home. I travelled on a bus and a train to school and always remember sitting on the bus with a dish of lamb casserole sloshing around on my lap! It’s lovely that you learned all those skills from the women in your family. My mother was also ahead of her time in terms of some of the food we ate at home. My sister had always hated meat so we had quite a lot of vegetarian food before it became more fashionable. We ate a lot of kidney beans and lentils in the 70s! My parents also grew fruit and veg in the garden which was lovely.

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      • Please don’t apologise. I love this type of history as well, and found your story both entertaining and envy-making (not sure if that’s the correct terminology!)

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  3. My sewing teacher, Miss Evans, pretty well ignored me because I was left handed and she didn’t know how to teach sewing to someone so peculiar. When I was teaching sewing to right handed nine year olds I just had them facing me, simple.
    Regarding cookery lessons we had a lovely lady called Miss Lodge. My mother was into natural foods too and Miss Lodge was very sympathetic when I took wholemeal flour in for pastry making.

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  4. It surprises me to remember that my mother could knit (but generally didn’t), but didn’t sew. As soon as I showed any sewing ability I became (and still am) the family’s mender (sigh). She was Scottish, far away from her family and had a hard, busy life and I guess no time for making things. I remember asking her to teach me to knit when I was quite young, but I taught myself to sew beginning with doll’s clothes.

    At my secondary school (all girls) I recall I was in the ‘academic stream’ but we were still taught to cook and to sew. I remember the emphasis was on the foundations of these activities – how to prepare good, basic meals, how to make pastry, and how to read a sewing pattern, building up a repertoire of increasingly more complicated garments. Writing this now I’m impressed! Not so then!

    But my crowning achievement by far was learning how to correctly iron a business shirt. And yes, there is a correct way! I hate ironing, but am a whizz at shirts. I recall I learnt this life-changing skill in what was a set of rooms at school set out as a home and if I remember correctly, this was to train/educate the ‘non academic’ girls in domestic activities. How truly awful.

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    • We certainly weren’t taught how to iron a shirt but I have a feeling that my sister was! I think it’s a very great shame that skills like sewing and cooking are generally seen as less important subjects. At my school, which was mixed, the boys also took cookery lessons, although I’m pretty sure none of them did needlework. I think there was a choice between cookery and woodwork – I would have liked to do both!

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  5. It seems to me from speaking to other stitchers over the years, that those of us that sew, do so Inspite of their needlework teachers, not because of them. I know there are inspirational textile teachers out there, but certainly in my schooldays, they were all about perfect technique and not about inspiration!

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