Childhood Memories Friday: Sewing

4-H sewing skirt 1970s

Sewing. Did you learn to sew as a child? I did, back in the ’70s, and it sounds so “old school” now. But even at the time, most of my peers didn’t learn to sew. All girls and boys were required to take Home Ec in 7th and 8th grade. We did some basic sewing in 7th grade, pillows I think, using the sewing machine. This differs from my girls’ middle school home ec class, where kids only learn hand sewing.

In 8th grade, things became more complex. My memories of this class were of a strange boy who was fascinated by trying to stick a sewing scissors into an electrical outlet, and of making a peasant skirt, which was really in style at the time. I remember helping others in the class with how to lay out their pattern pieces and cut them out (I’m feeling sympathy for the teacher; can you imagine trying to teach a class of 25 13-year-olds how to sew?). Since I already knew how to sew, I also made a matching peasant blouse. I loved that outfit and can still imagine it — light blue calico print.

Sewing in 4-H

But long before home ec class, I had learned the basics of sewing through 4-H. Or more accurately, my mom had helped me as I made 4-H sewing projects. Up at the top, you can see me in my 2nd year 4-H sewing project. I made the skirt, Mom made the coordinating jacket. For the first several years, Mom would tell me what I needed to do, step by step, and I’d just follow directions. I was never as much of a perfectionist as she was (and to be fair, 4-H pretty much demanded perfectionism, so it was good she was in charge), and she ripped out my work many, MANY times and I would have to re-do it. To this day, I avoid patterns with zippers as I just don’t like putting them in.

At perhaps the 5-year mark in my sewing journey, I had learned enough that I could read a pattern myself. I really enjoyed understanding how to follow the steps and put outfits together on my own, and I sewed quite a few more outfits than just those I needed for the fair. In this, I was definitely an oddity for my time.
4-H sew formal wear 1983

Here’s a skirt and blouse I made in the formal wear category. I wore this for various band concerts and other events where I needed a formal. 4-H sewing judging was always nerve-wracking for me. First, we had to model our creations, on a stage at a local school, for a judging panel. I was always quiet and shy; I didn’t even like people looking at me to sing Happy Birthday! So, the idea of walking (gracefully, of course) onto stage before a bunch of judges horrified me. Nonetheless, I practiced standing in a “hesitation” as they called it, turning my head to look at the judges as I walked across the front of the stage (and feeling slightly ridiculous), and then the dreaded time when I had to stand in the middle, just smiling until my cheeks shook, as the judges wrote and wrote and scrutinized everything.

A few weeks later at the fair, we had a public dress review, where an “honor group” was named. Being a decidedly non-graceful person, I was rarely ever chosen as a member of this. I usually fared better on the actual judging of the sewing. And it is still a dream to me that, during the summer after my junior year, I was named construction grand champion in sewing. This meant that I won a SEWING MACHINE!! Year after year, I’d seen this presented to seamstresses. In my world, it was somewhat akin to being named Miss America or something. It was a thing that always happened to someone else. When my name was called, you could have knocked me over with a stick!


4-H win sewing machine 1982

Forgive the dust on my shoes; the public dress review was held at the fair’s grandstand, which, depending on the weather, was often either a dust bowl or a large mud pit. Getting to the stage at all was always a dicey venture.

“Sew” there you have my sewing journey. Did you learn to sew, growing up?Any sewing memories to share?






8 thoughts on “Childhood Memories Friday: Sewing

  1. Wow that was a trip down memory lane! Nobody can appreciate your words more than I. . . I learned to sew in 4-H, too, and it still brings joy to me. One of my favorite spots to shop is in a lovely fabric store. Even if I just peruse the fabric and touch bolts occasionally, it lifts my spirits!

  2. Way to go!! I did the skirt year of 4-H. My mom and I had to do the apron to prove I could skip the year. She had me make a harder apron–typical. She was a clothing home ec major at Purdue! A good friends did sewing in 4-H all the way thru making formals, a rain coat, ski wear and who knows what else! Fun memory. I knew your gown would be Gunny Sack style! So pretty still today. Love the rich color your choose.

  3. Ah, sewing. I always loved choosing the fabric and notions, and looking at the finished project, but not the in-between! It was fun to lo spend time with the all the multi-patterned bolts in JCPenney’s basement and dream about what combinations would look nice together, especially in the Spring. My mother sewed way more than I ever did, most of my dresses for school (this was in the 60s). I took a minor in Home Ec at Ball State, figuring it would help me with future projects. I still have the lined pants and plaid jacket I made in tailoring class. Now if I could ever fit into it again, I’d probably alter it! I sewed for my girls when they were little.

  4. I took sewing in 4-H and had to take it in home ec, too. I made a formal, which I can still see in my minds eye. It was really two complete layers, as the outer layer was so thin, one had to make an inside layer to cover the essentials. The inside layer was made out of a satin-ish fabric and had boning over the bust. There was a long zipper in each layer. How Mother and I ever came through that experience still speaking to each other is a mystery to me. I think that was probably the last thing I ever sewed. To her credit, Mother was not a perfectionist, so that helped.

    There have been a few times in my life I have wished that I could sew something, but since I have no sewing machine, that is impossible. But by and large, I did all the sewing I’ve ever wanted to do in 4-H.

  5. Fun memories! I’m trying to remember how I learned to sew – I don’t remember any classes in it until 9th or 10th grade, but I already knew the basics by then. My grandmother and aunt sewed well, but lived in a different state. It must have been my mom, though I don’t remember her teaching me at all. But she must have – and I think so because she’s the type to just do it and only look at the instructions if she couldn’t figure it out, and when I got to college sewing classes as a Home Ec. Ed. major, I had to unlearn a lot of bad habits and learn for the first time some basic ones. I don’t think I ever used interfacing before that class. I do remember working on a sewing badge for Girl Scouts – a lot of us did it at the same time and made ponchos that had ball fringe on the edges (also popular at the time). I haven’t made clothes in a long time but I still avoid zippers if possible, and if I do use them, I have to use my own method – I’ve never been able to do it as taught. But it works. Do you remember when “invisible zippers” were all the rage?

  6. I learned basic sewing in 9th and 10th-grade Home Ec. Boys took “Shop” but not Home Ec. We had wonderful teachers who taught the sewing, cooking basics, and told us about the “Birds and the Bees.” Kids learn all that kind of stuff at a much earlier age now!! I liked sewing but was never very good at it. As an adult, I’ve always had a sewing machine and used to mend my daughters’ clothes on it. Mainly, I made simple curtains and valances for our houses, even made some lined drapes for a bedroom. Sewing was never relaxing for me and seemed to take up so much time.

  7. What fond memories I have of learning to sew — yes, from my perfectionist mother. But since she was also patient and kind, I took well to the perfectionism. She was my 4-H leader, so I learned from her both at home and through many, many 4-H sewing projects. It was always fun winning a trip to the Minnesota State Fair to model and enter my creations. And home ec class in school was my absolute favorite. As a senior in high school, I was awarded the Betty Crocker Outstanding Homemaker award. In college I sewed a sport coat for my fiancĂ© (now husband), and he was so impressed that he went out and bought me my very own sewing machine. Your article had me wishing that I’d taken pictures of the outfits I made. Then I realized that any picture of me taken between 1965-1980 would have been me wearing an outfit I made, because I sewed all my own clothes :). Now, one of my greatest joys is time spent in my incredible sewing room (also a gift from my husband), making gifts for grandchildren and other family members. Thanks for another opportunity to remember how blessed I am to have been taught how to sew!

  8. Ah, sewing. Such mixed feelings. My mother sewed extremely well, and tried very hard to teach me. She was a perfectionist, but didn’t insist that I be. It was uphill work, though, because I seem to have an almost superhuman knack for knotting up thread. I did make a dress in high school that I loved and wore a lot. I’ll try to find a picture of it. I made a baby outfit that my sons and even my grandsons wore! Some ladies wanted to buy it when I made it, but I wouldn’t sell it, because I’d cut the material out the wrong way – not going against the grain, or the other way around – I didn’t realize there was a right and wrong direction! Mostly my Mother and later, my Mother-in-law made things for me. My sister can sew; maybe that’s why she had all girls, and I had all boys! I can do basic hand sewing, mending, etc. along with a little knitting and a lot of embroidery, but I never got very good at most of it. I do things impulsively sometimes and once in a while they turn out well, but it’s always a bit of a gamble.

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