Sew what?

 Occupational portrait of a woman working at a sewing machine, 1853. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

Occupational portrait of a woman working at a sewing machine, 1853. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress.

As a young woman going to high school in the late 1970s, there was no way I was going to take home economics. I had big plans and they didn’t include being a housewife who made her family’s clothes and cooked her family’s meals. I planned to got to college, get a graduate degree in archaeology or something equally interesting, and travel the world. As it turns out, I did indeed go to college, earned a graduate degree, and have traveled parts of the world. But as it turns out, I wish I HAD learned how to sew properly – it would save me a lot of money and could have been a fun creative outlet. I did take one short class in jr. high at the local community center and learned how to sew a maxi dress with a ruffle at the hem.

My parents both appreciate dressing well, as did my grandparents. I have liked clothing and fashion since I was a kid, and used to daydream about being a fashion designer. But I was realistic enough to realize that fashion design was not a practical path to a stable income, and majored in English instead. (Yeah, the irony.)

Now I wish I could stitch up a pretty silk skirt in a day. I don’t want to make beginner’s projects like pot holders and elastic-waisted skirts. I recently took the tentative step of buying a used sewing machine.

Enough whining. Instead I’ll share snippets of some vintage garments that illustrate the beautiful stitching used on clothing women used to make for themselves. My goal this year is to learn how to thread the machine and sew a straight line.

Detail of peach gown


Delicate lace and silk from the 1920s

Lace attached to silk

Vintage satin and lace details on bed jacket

Vintage satin and lace details on bed jacket -the lace was machine sewn to the fabric

Vintage satin dress

Satin dress with tucks (pleats) on the bodice

Seam of vintage dress

Hand finished seam

Lace and silk detail on 1920s garment

Details on 1920s silk piece – lace, bias cut fabric, interesting seams

Vintage pink brocade night gown

Gathers? Ruching? Shirring?


2 thoughts on “Sew what?

  1. I trick I learned from my grandmother in the few sewing lessons I had is to start with your sewing machine unthreaded and put in a sheet of notebook paper and try stitching the lines. Build up some speed and when you get good at sewing straight then draw free hand lines and do the same thing. Personally I find that the sewing part is not that hard to master it is learning to make things fit properly. Once you have that down you’ll never go back. That might necessitate a class. You may remember I made my living sewing for many years. If I can answer any questions ask away! 🙂

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