A little while ago on the Oliver + S discussion forums, one of the members introduced a topic that I thought was very interesting and timely. She mentioned that she had been doing some research on her family and had been thinking about how attitudes toward sewing have changed over time. Not all that long ago, sewing was a necessity for many women, not a hobby or pasttime. Have attitudes toward sewing changed now that sewing is no longer a requirement to keep a home running and a family clothed?
I loved this topic and immediately contacted her asking if she would like to write a blog post about it. So now I’d like to introduce you to Tamara Kowald.
Tamara was born in Perth but raised in country Western Australia and now lives on a farm inland from Geraldton in the Midwest with her husband and two children. Since about the age of ten, sewing has been an important part of her life. She is sure it is “in the blood” as countless generations of her family have taken to needle and thread for work and pleasure.
Since receiving her first sewing machine at 18, Tamara hasn’t looked back and now spends alot of her sewing time, machine sewing rather than needleworking which is her first love. Tamara loves working with natural fiber fabrics and exploring new options to create different elements that compliment the patterns she works with. Although not completely self taught, Tamara learned the majority of her sewing knowledge through books and by watching and conversing with other sewists.
Here’s her post.
I’ve been spending some time just recently, researching some of my family history and throughout this time, I’ve been thinking about how the women in my family have viewed and valued the skill of sewing. I’ve always wondered whether they saw this as a chore or if they actually liked to sit and stitch beautiful things for their homes and families.
Whichever way, you look at it, throughout history, women have viewed sewing as a valuable skill to be used in a myriad of ways. Prior to the industrial revolution, women conducted their sewing by hand and made everything from linen to clothing and in between. Even after, during the two world wars, women entered the workforce and used their sewing skills to make parachutes and uniforms for their men along with all the other sewing at home. Women had no choice but to make things as the motto goes during the Depression “Make do and mend.”
In some cases these periods in our recent history would have been difficult. Could this have changed some women’s attitudes somewhat today?
I had a brief conversation with the home economics teacher at my local school this morning and she was saying that her 8th grade students needed to be taught the simplest of sewing skills, simply because most of them didn’t even know what a sewing machine looked like! She also offered information about the younger generations of her own family who are grown and how they don’t mend or sew anything. They pass the things that require mending onto her!
Why is it that only some of each generation continue this most valued and often unappreciated skill?
Looking back into my own family history, I have always known that within my mother’s family, the women were almost born with a needle and thread in their hands. Whatever undertaking they had been assigned to in their lives, they still took time out to work the needle and thread and later (once it was invented and readily available) utilised the sewing machine.
I have memories of my childhood where I was desperately trying to make a dress for my Barbie doll and I was attempting to do the humble blanket stitch. I was about 10 years old at the time and not allowed to go near the sewing machine. It was my paternal grandmother, the one who couldn’t sew a stitch that helped me master this most simple start to what has become such an important part of my life. Later on, my other grandmother (the one whose own mother was a professional seamstress) showed me how to lay out a pattern and cut it out. I could never work out why she didn’t sew more clothing when she knew so much.
For some of us, it was our mothers who paved the way. But for me it was these two most inspiring women who sowed the seed that has grown into a passion.
I found out later why my grandma didn’t sew clothing and the reason to this was because she didn’t like doing the everyday type clothes sewing. She would however, make a dress once a year for my mum to wear to the annual local show (fair).
When I’ve discussed the topic of sewing with my friends, they have quite mixed reactions. Some of them learned to sew in school and had been taught by their own mothers but they seem to have put their enjoyment for sewing aside to make way for other things. In short, they claim they have “no time” to sew.“
Finding the time is always a potential problem but if our attitudes to sewing reflect our need to sew, then, we would make the time and effort to sew. It’s simple!
I don’t believe that sewing is a dying art at all. I mean it is evident that it will always be there to fall back on. But I do believe that our priorities have changed our attitudes towards sewing. I’ve heard so many exclamations over the last week with “I love to sew but…” and there is always some excuse attached.
I find it extraordinary how through history, women sat together to sew shirts for the poor and chat. How they sat together to teach their daughters to sew and through this developed positive attitudes within the next generation. I also find it pleasant to realise that those of us who sew today really enjoy the process. And that is a good thing.
Illustrations courtesy of April Henry of April 1930’s.