Making Your Own Keeps You in Stitches

– Sewing as an Historical Exercise –

When you think of a sewing machine do you imagine the hum of an electrical unit or the rhythmic thum-thum-thum of a treadle machine that is powered by foot and coordination? No, I don’t suppose most people often think of sewing machines.

I do, occasionally, mostly when I recall visits to my grandmother, who used the antique treadle version. She was a talented seamstress and would make little outfits for me when I would visit from half a continent away each summer. Full skirts that would spin when I twirled were generally the demands of a six-year-old girl.

Likewise would my aunt, also skilled with a needle and thread, make me lovely dresses. I recollect these memories here because I want to talk about the continuum of history.

What goes around, stays around

The history continuum sounds like something out of Star Trek, but as I see it, it is simply the importance of recognizing that there are some methods of daily living that have been around for thousands of years and ought to be preserved and rehearsed so as not to be lost. Actively live in the past to preserve skills that might otherwise be forgotten because of dis-use.

Skills are like tools: you don’t need them all the time, but you’re sorry when you don’t have the right one when you need it!

Sewing fits this continuum. It was a skill used frequently in the past but has fallen into dis-use among the general public because of the large-scale factory production of clothing and textiles. It is, in theory, more affordable to buy ready-made clothes at the store than to go to the trouble of making them yourself.

I agree, and I buy most of my clothes at the store, but sewing has a place. If you can sew on a button, stitch up a seam, or repair a rip, you are ahead of most people and you won’t have to toss out as many clothes that are only slightly maimed.

Stitch, not pitch

I recall family stories in which most items of clothes were made at home and, if they fell into disrepair, then they were simply “re-purposed.” Or, as it was back then, you “made-do” with what you had.

I’m sure this came of the Great Depression, but it reaches much further back. The Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th centuries caused a spike in manufacturing. Thus, everyday items produced in vast numbers fairly cheaply would cost much less than before.

People could afford lots of “stuff,” however, not nearly as much as we have now. Therefore, they still didn’t waste what they weren’t sure they could replace. Overabundance didn’t really hit until the last third of the 20th century.

On a visit to Old World Wisconsin, a living history museum in that state, I remember observing a linen-making display (I highly recommend visiting the museum, by the way, great exhibits). The flax was harvested, soaked to soften, fibers separated from the stem, combed, and then spun into thread. Finally it was ready to be woven into fabric from which a seamstress or tailor would cut and sew a final garment. Imagine if you had to do all that just to have a new shirt – you wouldn’t throw it out in a hurry – that’s for sure.

The moral of my post – if you get the chance, learn your way around a needle and thread and a sewing machine. Not only will you save some money, but you will be participating in a thread of experience woven through the tapestry of human history!

– Amanda Stiver

One Comment

  1. Great story Amanda. I learned how to sew in the first grade and haven’t stopped since. My mom used to make the whole family’s clothes, although back in the day, I didn’t like matching everyone else in our family portraits!

    I still enjoy making clothes [shirts, skirts], purses, pillow cases, and rag dolls [+ their clothes]… Good skill to have and very fun and relaxing! ☺ ♥L


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