My husband always laughs when he tells the story that when he first met my mother, her big selling point for me was that “she makes her own clothes.” There was something very nerdy about that. Fortunately, he was not put off by it.
I can remember almost every piece of clothing I ever made for myself, how old I was, and where I wore it. I grew up at my mother’s feet as she pedaled away on her sewing machine, producing some very professional quality clothes. It was a time when most women sewed, coming out of an era when store-bought clothes were beyond the affordability of many.
She did it because she loved fabrics, she loved the creative process and the very act of sitting down to her machine. She passed that love on to me, and we shared that sewing machine. My first project was making a set of doll clothes for my cousin’s baby doll.
From there, I went on to make school clothes, including a sheath dress style popular at the time that was not much more than a front and a back, some darts and a zipper. My best friend, Shirley, and I made matching blue linen sheath dresses we wore on a church youth trip to New York City. We thought we looked so fine.
As any home sewing enthusiast knows, one of the most rewarding parts of the process is choosing the fabric. My mother and I spent hours examining the goods at Waechter’s Silk Shop when it was on Wall Street. We reserved those fabrics for finer garments. Otherwise, we bought material and notions in the basement at Belk’s in downtown Asheville.
When I got married, my mother made a beautiful going-away suit of slubbed silk with a jacket with bound buttonholes and a sleeveless dress with tailored bows at the waistline. I don’t know how she found the time to do it that spring while she was teaching school, but it was so special that I have saved it through the years.
She gave me my own Singer electric sewing machine after I got married, and when I was expecting our first child, I made all my maternity clothes. There is a picture of me with three of my office mates on the day before Lee was born wearing a blue cotton ottoman dress with pin tucks down the front.
That machine was nothing but trouble with stitches that wouldn’t hold, and no amount of repair work was successful. I sewed intermittently after that but never really got back to it. So many women either stopped sewing after the ’70s or never learned how.
I was particularly interested in a recent story in The New York Times about the McCall Pattern Co. The author of the article said that while the company might seem like a business that time forgot, “it finds itself newly fashionable.” The company occupies space in a Manhattan office building, and the company’s employees believe people will always sew.
The company creates some 700 patterns each year for the lines that fall under the McCall Pattern Co. — McCall’s, Butterick, Kwik Sew and Vogue Patterns. The catalogs of designs are found at fabric shops.
Company spokesmen say some people think the company is part of the past, but in this day of do-it-yourselfers who want to look stylish on a budget, sewing still has a lot of appeal. The large staff of the company keeps up with fashion and fabric trends. The article noted that McCall has kept up with the trends by introducing downloadable patterns and by striking deals with popular sewing bloggers.
One unpleasant reality is that there are fewer fabric shops especially after Hancock Fabrics closed all its stores. Nevertheless, McCall soldiers on and its employees believe there will always be people who want to satisfy the creative urge by sewing.
This is the opinion of Carole Currie. Contact her at 828-658-1914