Home Sewing as Art

Dec 5, 2014

“What am I going to wear?” could well have been Mother Eve’s thought as she prepared for her hasty foray from the flora and fauna into the larger landscape. Since the invention of those of the female persuasion, this has been the question. So, there Eve was, presumably with no good ready-to-wear boutiques, with the probably unhandy-as-dressmaker Adam, and with that damned talking snake having slithered off and now nowhere to be found. Nothing for good old Eve to do but construct the world’s first home-sewing project!

What a precedent she set! Thousands of years later, home sewing still is happening. In fact, I recently saw an article in Shore magazine, which said that after some years of quietude young people are turning to this in ever-greater numbers.

That being the case, it’s no wonder that Linda Przybyszewski’s book, The Lost Art of Dress is making such a splash. The New York Times book section, the Diane Rehm show, and that home-sewing, be-all-and-end-all, Threads magazine, all have given positive notice to her modern-history paean to home-sewers. And well they might too! Just a small dip into her pool of information makes the home-sewer itch to drag out some of that cache of unsewn fabric (Admit it, you know that you have one too.), search through pattern books and begin a project.

Linda’s book also calls to mind sewing projects from the home-sewers’ past. Maybe you had your beginnings sewing doll clothing. Then, you advanced to a simple skirt, a plain shift dress (Those could be whipped up in an evening for a date the next evening.), or perhaps a creative run at home decor: curtains and throw pillows were popular beginner undertakings. Then, after a while, challenge became the watchword. You looked for tasks more suited to your expertise: garments with set-in sleeves, bound buttonholes, tucks, linings, plaids that needed matching or even a bit of tailoring. Bring it on!

My Grandmother was an ace seamstress and she used a treadle machine, which she could really make hum. My mother sewed occasionally and used an electric machine that she operated by pressing one of those levers that was knee-activated. My Aunt Rose, another ace seamstress who also had a huge streak of creativity, gave me my first sewing machine; it was a child’s model, but was electric and it and I became such good friends that together we even made formalwear. My second sewing machine was adult-sized and was given me by my mother. Together it and I travelled through about 25 years of my life making both simple and more difficult garments. The memory of some of that output brings a huge smile to my face because it produced all of the clothing that I made for my son from infancy through early adolescence. As a toddler, he looked so adorable in a pair of little overalls that were corduroy with big patch pockets shaped like mittens. Even as a surly adolescent, he looked more than presentable in button-down shirts. My current machine was given me by my techno-wonder, husband, Larry, and also is a techno-wonder that humbles me because I know it my heart that it’s a more-advanced sewer than I.

Although sewing machines are nice to consider, the fabric is the real treat of the home-sewing deal. If you are at all a tactile person, you know that the feel, the “hand” to use the technical sewing term, can be magnetic. To see is to want to touch. A walk through what we used to refer to as a “yard goods” store is much like a person with an addiction encountering dealers on the street. The gotta’-haves take over: hence the collection of unsewn fabric.

So, wondering, “What am I going to wear?” With a little pre-planning, some interesting fabric and a challenging pattern, you too can benefit from Ms. Przbyszewski’s observation, “dress: the easiest way to bring art into your life."