Sewing for how long?

I suppose I started sewing at about 4 or 5 years old? Pattern darning on hessian to start with, guided by my Mother and Grandmother. Several of those pieces still exist in my Mother’s collection. My Mother sewed most of our clothes when my brother and I were small. Initially, much of the fabric came from her old full skirted 50’s and 60’s frocks. My Grandmother, dear Nana, wanted to be a tailor, but her family could not afford the apprenticeship fees so she had to go to work in a pickle onion factory instead (one of the saddest stories I know). She did manage to study at nightschool however, and had considerable skill. Nan made lots of Mum’s clothes of course. Nan (and Gramps) lived with us from when I was about 10, so I grew up with two fairly accomplished dressmakers. Now I have Nan’s last sewing machine, sniff.

So large scale embroidery was my start. Then making dolls clothes, both by hand and later machine. Practicing on sewing machines by making “stamps” and spirals etc with old needles on paper. Also making dolls. Pipecleaner dolls and dressing them, often in different country’s traditional dress. I was impatient with school sewing lessons because they didn’t do things the way my family had already taught me. by late high school I was starting to make clothes for myself, partly because I had access to fabric, but very little money. I kept making clothes all through Uni days, and in the latter part of that, discovered the SCA. Costume became part of the sewing mix, but without much historical accuracy at the beginning.

So many weekends and holidays were all about the gift of time in which to sew. I remember one set of Easter holidays when I was so excited because I had time to make a coat. That coat got made and worn lots. I was so happy both making it, and having made it. For years, I’d spend weekends sewing in the family dining room while listening to one of two sets of albums- Eurythmics or Steeleye Span. I’m astonished in retrospect that my poor family were so tolerant of this. Yeh I should get out more, or have got out more, but I’d not be as good a seamstress if I had.

I have kept making clothes for myself ever since. Some of the impetus is that I don’t have a figure that matches the shapes that retail clothes are made to fit. I look way better in well fitted custom made clothes. I can’t buy trousers that fit for any money, or shirts, or anything much except knits and shoes, and even the knits I fairly often end up altering (actually, I’ve altered a bunch of shoes too). I also love fabric, really love fabric. Well, I really love high quality fabric, especially when I find it for cheap.

I continued my dressmaking education by reading lots of “Threads” magazines, books, and learning things from my sewing friends. Later I found my costume experience informing my general dressmaking. I haven’t used a commercial pattern in years. Commercial patterns don’t fit any better than retail clothing. I did however learn a lot about garment construction from the instructions in the commercial patterns I worked with for years.

You know that advice for writers? “just write, lots, keep doing it, write, really”. Well for me it was sewing. I could simply not count how many garments I have made, or altered, or remodelled. So many. Mumblety years worth. I’m pleased with what I can do, but I suppose I feel I ought to be able to do more. This was not though my paid career. So it’s just a well developed hobby, but if I’m away from needle and thread for too long, I crave it.


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