Why Do I Sew?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the past.

No, not my ex, or even highschool…the past in terms of the last several decades. What started this was a conversation with my grandmother last month. We were, of course, discussing sewing. As usual, Grandma offered to give me money to buy clothes, which I turned down, explaining that I love clothes, but I love expensive clothes. That’s one of the reasons why I sew. I told her, “I can’t justify spending $40 on one shirt. I can spend $10 or less on a pattern and if I find some fabric on the cheap, I can get 2 yards for around $15. I already have some thread, but if I need more, it’s not expensive. I can make some cool details , embroider it, make it in whatever color I want, it’ll fit, and I’ll really love it. I can’t get that from a retailer.”

She laughed. “You sound like me, 50 years ago.”

I might mention Grandma was my age 50 years ago. But these things have a way of repeating themselves, so it’s not terribly surprising, is it? Heck, in my immediate family, not only does Grandma sew, my sister-in-law does, too. Then there’s me, on my journey to becoming a decent seamstress. My mom doesn’t sew, but there are certainly some elements of garment construction in her free time, because she’s crocheting a sweater right now. For me, this is normal. What’s weird is that nobody else I know does it.

Thinking about the past, I know that once, not so long ago, women in my grandmother’s generation made their own clothes, owned sewing machines, and learned from their own mothers how to sew. Patterns weren’t always standardized, and some women just made their own, anyway, to get a good fit. Sewing was part of life, an economic necessity, and a common skill. It saw many families through two world wars, a depression, and a baby boom. My living room contains a Singer machine and table from the early 20th century, from my great grandmother on my Dad’s side. It’s in good shape, with some minor repairs, you could probably still use it. It still has thread on a wooden spool ready to go, and I found an assortment of buttons and some directions in the drawers. My family keeps everything. I sew not just for my own amusement and creative expression, though that is a part of it, but I’m keeping a family tradition alive. I hope one day, a daughter or granddaughter  or niece will learn how to do it from me.

I find it seriously amusing when somebody comments on my outfit and I reply, “Thanks. I made it.” and they’re really impressed. “You did??” they reply, eyes round. “No way!” Sewing makes you cool. I’ve always loved retro style. I got Grandma to make me a poodle skirt when I was eight. I have several books on costume history because I LOVE seeing how fashion looked a couple centuries ago. For me, the past isn’t past. It’s wardrobe options.

In fact, I am absolutely delighted that with the internet, I can not only show off to the billions of people on the planet that yes, I did make that- but there are millions of women in my generation doing the exact same thing! I recently participated in the Colette Patterns’ Laurel Sewing Contest.For those not in the know, Colette Patterns does retro-inspired looks for the modern gal. Sooo pretty. They had a contest for the latest pattern release, a 1960s inspired shift dress. I didn’t win,(and didn’t expect to, being a newbie,) but for me, that wasn’t really the point. The point was the sharing of the experience, the creativity, and maybe most fun of all- seeing what everybody else made! Even my friends, who don’t sew, got into this contest excitement. People loved seeing the entries! And they were all so interesting! Same pattern, but a million different ways! Sewing is a really big community.

What’s really cool about sewing is that absolutely everybody understands clothes on some level, since we all wear them. The interest gets piqued because while we all wear t-shirts and shorts, we don’t actually fabricate them, for the most part. It’s a mysterious process, like a caterpillar turning into a butterfly, one day raw materials, the next day out of sight, and then later, ta-da! Look how cool! One of the things I love about sewing is how potentially anyone can be creative this way. I always hear people say “I’m not artistic.” and being an artist myself, I find this sad and troubling. Artistic expression should be a basic human right, like clean water and a safe place to sleep without getting eaten. Or something like that. I think if more women (or men, hey, let’s not get stereotypical!) attempted things they thought they could not do, they might be happier. Why not learn how to sew? It’s rewarding, and arguably, useful. Making something yourself, putting in the time, and enjoying the process helps you really see the thing you are making, and to appreciate it more. It might not be perfect, but that’s ok. Imperfection rules!  Some of the best stuff exists only by accident. Penicillin, for example.

Sure, you could go to Walmart and buy pillows for your couch. But…it might be more fun to make some. And they’d be exactly what you wanted. And then you could brag about how you made them. See the allure? Sewing is very personal- you get to decide everything and the result is uniquely yours, and because of that, it’s beautiful. 

So sure, I sew for lots of reasons, but the best reason of all is to make something beautiful, and then I get to share it with the people I care about. Awesome.

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