Sew Thinky Thursday: My Sewing History

There’s a new linky party in town, hosted by Mommy’s Nap Time. What I like about this one is that it allows me to write (and doesn’t require me to post a ton of pictures, which is good because I’m a lousy photographer). This week’s question is:

When did you start sewing? Tell us a bit about your sewing history. When did you realize you were really hooked?

I grew up around crafts and handwork, and I have a lot of sewing memories that involve other people–mostly my mother and grandmother. My mom always made all of our Halloween costumes for us, and she always made whatever we wanted, even if it was something bizarre or difficult to make. One year, my brother was a sandwich and I was the five of hearts from a card deck. I wish I had a photo handy–those were some great costumes! I also have a vivid memory from when I was very young of a bunch of teddy bears that my grandmother made for charity. There’s a photo in one of my family albums of all of these bears in different sizes sitting on the wicker bench on her sun porch. There were probably forty of them, all in soft brown flannel with hand-drawn or hand-embroidered faces.

Sadly, I was of the era where it wasn’t a priority to teach “domestic arts” such as sewing or cooking, so while I got a lot of exposure to sewing and handwork as a child, I didn’t get much experience. I occasionally got kits as gifts, but I wasn’t really allowed near the sewing machine. During the winter break of my junior year of college, I spent an overnight with my grandmother, who taught me how to sew using her machine–a workhorse Viking, probably from the late 1960s or early 1970s. I made a long vest out of a black fabric with a grey print (I was pretty goth-y back then). I still have scraps of the fabric in my stash, and the vest is probably in a bin somewhere. I wore that vest like crazy, and I had a great time sewing it, but sewing wasn’t a hip hobby for young women of the early 1990s, and a sewing machine wouldn’t have fit in my tiny dorm room.

When the Stitch ‘n Bitch trend started to gain ground in the early 2000s, I bought Debbie Stoller’s book and spent a few weeks teaching myself how to knit. It was the summer between grad school and gainful employment, so I had ample time on my hands. Once I figured knitting out, I was hooked, and I’ve been a knitter ever since. But I had always felt drawn to quilting and sewing. I attribute some of that to my grandmother, an expert quilter and seamstress (and my daughter’s namesake!) who can do the most amazing things with a needle and thread. Five or six years ago, my mother upgraded her sewing machine and gave me her old one. It sat in the guest room for a few years–I’d say that it was gathering dust, but it was in a protective case. There were a few times when I’d go to Hancock Fabrics or JoAnn and see a pattern and buy some fabric and think, “I am going to get out the machine and sew something!” but I never made good on it.

Then, around Thanksgiving of 2010, my husband and I went to Waynesville, Ohio to look at the antique shops. While we were there, we wandered into the Fabric Shack, which is an insanely awesome fabric store. Amid all of the beautiful fabrics (it really is a wonderland of fabric with something for everyone), I saw the Moda precuts, and zoned in on a jelly roll in bright pinks and purples and lime greens. It must have called my name. I bought it, and the next time I visited my mom, I said “you must teach me how to do something with this.”

She did, and I started doing some sewing when I would visit her, but it still didn’t stick.

In June of 2011, I got a freelance job for Library Journal to write an article about “trendy crafts” resources for libraries. I had plenty of knitting and crochet books and web sites, but I needed some quilting and sewing stuff. While searching the web for quilting, I discovered the modern quilting “scene” and Fat Quarterly. I remembered that jelly roll, and conveniently, the most recent issue of Fat Quarterly featured projects that use precuts.

Looking back at it…I knew so little. I could barely thread my machine, and changing the bobbin gave me fits. I knew NOTHING about sewing properly, or maintaining a steady quarter-inch seam. I knew NOTHING about cutting fabric, or how to press. That first quilt top is somewhere in my basement. It’s a hot mess. Someday I will take a picture of it so we can all make fun of it. The crooked seams! The weird bias-es of the poorly-cut fabric! The bizarre piecing errors!

But it was liberating, in a way. I knew so little that I wasn’t afraid to mess things up. I wasn’t intimidated by how little I knew–I just jumped in and did. And I’ve tried to keep that attitude, even though I know a lot more now. With that project, I was hooked. After a couple months’ break due to being gigantically pregnant (and then having a newborn around the house), I joined the Swoon Quiltalong about a year ago, and I became full-on obsessed with quilting and sewing. Now I have a formidable fabric stash, and I continue to try new things and to experiment and to learn.

Posted on by nanette
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