The Modern Home Economist - Sewing In the Home


 This afternoon as I thumbed through one of the vintage magazines I came across an article about how to buy a sewing machine.  Seems in 1954 the ZigZag sewing machine was a big deal.  If you're my age and not a collector of vintage sewing machines, then you might not be aware that zigzag seams were such a big deal once upon  a time.  Nowadays you'll find even basic machines have a number of zigzag stitches and slightly better ones might have a variety of fancy stitches.  If you're a dedicated seamstress, you might even have a machine that is computerized and embroiders all by it's lonesome once programmed.

However, for the sake of argument, let's just say that you are a novice, have rarely done more than sew on a button or repair a hem by hand.  There are bare basic machines on the market these days for under $100 that are sturdy little work horse machines that will allow you to sew with nothing more than an instruction manual and a piece of plain inexpensive cloth to practice upon.  Sewing, for all that it can be quite an art form all it's own, is like any other skill:  the basics are not that difficult to learn.  How do I know?  Because I learned to sew at age 12.  That was one skill Mama made sure I learned.

Back in the 1960's and '70's you did not just waltz into a store and buy clothing for a plump child right off the rack.  And lest you think I was very heavy back then, I wore the same size the other girls did with just a couple of inches added in the width of any item.  Boy oh boy did you pay extra for that little bit of extra fabric.  Mama, as it happened, was a great seamstress and had been taught to alter patterns to fit by her aunt who didn't even so much as bother with bought patterns but made up her own!  Yes, Great Aunt Chris was a dressmaker who could eye a dress, and would then go home and cut out a muslin pattern to fit.  And just as a side, she was also a talented hair stylist who could copy a haircut and often did for her girls benefit.

So at age 12 I took one sewing lesson a week for 6 weeks.  In 6 weeks time, in a class that took less than 2 hours, we moved from learning the basics of the machines (threading, winding bobbins and basic care) to t-shirts, pants, skirts, pajamas or nightgowns and underwear.  Seriously, ladies, in just 12 hours time!  Of course, we took our pieces home to work on but it was amazing how quickly those skills grew.  The one class I missed was the one where we cut fabric by patterns, learning to alter so that we had a perfect fit when sewn.

Because fabric cost something (a lot less then than now), Mama never allowed me to cut out any piece of clothing.  I think now, knowing  basic math and what I understand about fit, that if I had a simple pattern I could easily alter it to fit now...I mean to challenge myself to try that one day.  Following that summer of sewing lessons it was my task from that point onward to sew my own clothes for the school year and church.  Mind you I did have my handful of lessons and Mama was at hand at some point in most days to help me with anything really tricky, but I soon was capably sewing even difficult patterns.  I became quite good, too.  So good that  I could not tell a denim jacket made by myself from one bought in a store, except that the store bought one had a label.

These days, it's hardly necessary to make all our own clothing.  We have access to stores and sales and sizing is far more user friendly than it was back in the yesterdays of my life.  We can buy clothing rather cheaply, too.  The cost of patterns and fabric and finishing pieces are a good bit higher than they were long ago when sewing clothing was more popular but it IS possible to still make clothes inexpensively and have far better quality than anything available in the stores.  Patterns go on sale often enough for just $1 each and if you're blessed to be average size you might well pick them up in thrift stores if you look for classic items.  That pattern for girls bathing suits above could do just as well today as it did years ago.  You can also check thrift and flea markets for buttons, zippers, thread and other finish items for pennies on the dollar of their counterparts in fabric stores.  You can buy inexpensive fabric at thrift stores as well, often already cut to the perfect yardage for most patterns.  It's been my experience that those who sew often have a love of fabrics that leads them to buy every pretty piece that catches their eye...and even those who sew only occasionally might find the fabric bug has bitten them often enough (clearing my throat here, lol).

What are the pluses of making your own clothes?  You will learn in sewing how clothing is constructed and will soon understand what is needed to alter store bought clothing that doesn't fit well. Your clothes will be unique and not look like any other person on the street, because these pieces will be clearly one of a kind.  You can easily copy higher end pieces without paying anywhere near the same costs. Your clothing will be custom fit to you, and we all know that clothing that fits perfectly looks more expensive even if it was dirt cheap. And at some point you might well be inspired to transform pieces of clothing that no longer fit well to something far more useful. I love this example from Rebecca

                                                     Go HERE to see the Before/After 

You can move from making clothing to making soft coverings for your home such as curtains, pillows, slipcovers, bedspreads, even awnings and umbrella covers for your outdoor furnishings.  And let us not forget quilts, which can be utilitarian or art pieces.
 Pillows I made from clearance priced napkins and gifted fabric pieces.  Cost to make the pillows for my front porch were under $5 including the pillow forms I picked up in the thrift store.
 The fabric for these shams was bought at a clearance furnishing warehouse.  This is upholstery quality fabric.  I think I had 10 yards total for under $10.  Right now that same pattern fabric is used in  a small Roman shade, two valances and a bench cover for my master bath.

The quilt Katie made me two Christmases ago.  Katie taught herself to sew after one basic lesson from me about how to run the machine and thread bobbin and needle.  She sewed a few straight seams under my watchful eye, took her little sewing machine and began making tote bags which she sold to classmates in Junior High.  I learned a few things from her! Like how to make my own plastic fused cloth.  Katie employed skill in getting her materials: she clipped zippers and plastic squares from bags that sheet sets and comforters had come in, and she cut up two sets of sheets (ACK!) that she'd decided she was tired of.  Thankfully friends of mine took pity on her when I related her crimes and ingenuity and sent her boxes of fabric from their own stashes, lol.  Katie has never made clothing but she uses her sewing skills in her home.  She recently made coasters and plans to make napkins shortly.
Over the next few posts I'll share with you websites, YouTube videos and scanned articles from my vintage magazines related to sewing machines, sewing, altering or transforming wearables, soft furnishings and more.  While the vintage items I share might show their age in style the methods used can be employed in the modern day.  The real beauty of this particular series is that you might well find a budget stretcher within these pages that will save you money and time. 


Anonymous said...

I will be looking forward to these post!

IM said...

Great post. I just purchased a new sewing machine, and i am inspired by your projects!

IM said...

Great post. I just purchased a new sewing machine, and i am inspired by your projects!

Anonymous said...

I had that swimsuit...the two-piece with the halter top! My mom probably still has the pattern...good memories!

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