Marcia Strykowski

Vintage Sewing Comeback

Like my character Amy (tween novels: Call Me Amy and Amy’s Choice) when I was growing up, us girls took home economics while the boys took ‘shop’ (woodworking, auto mechanics, etc.). It may seem old-fashioned now to split up the boys and girls, and even did so at the time, since I would have loved to experience both classes. But what’s more disturbing is that in most middle schools around the country, these worthwhile courses have been dropped to make room for more tech-savvy programs.
vintage sewerIn home economics, we had half a year of sewing and half a year of cooking. Both skills stayed with many of us for all of our lives. Hopefully they won’t become a lost art unknown to the next generation who may find it easier to order fast foods and online clothing while plugged into an ever-present internet.
Here are some of the patterns I made:
my old patternsLuckily, there are other ways for today’s kids to try their hand at sewing. Check out these cool books.
sewing book 3

Two popular ones are Sewing School and Sewing School 2. Both books include lots of easy-to-make fun projects.

The two how-to-sew books shown below contain slightly more advanced tasks.
sewing book 5

sewing book 1A new picture book biography with a sewing theme is Sewing Stories: Harriet Powers’ Journey From Slave to Artist written by Barbara Herkert and illustrated by Vanessa Brantley-Newton. Born in 1837, Harriet learned to stitch while she was a young slave girl on a Georgia plantation. She created several story quilts and, as a free woman, became known for her art.

In a post about sewing, I can’t resist including an old favorite: Corduroy by Don Freeman. This book, including the wonderful sewing-on-the-button scene, first appeared in print in 1968. A follow-up companion book arrived ten years later.
corduroy

Margaret Thompson Sorenson's QuiltsSewing has been a part of many families for generations. For example, my mother has created many beautiful quilts and bags. Her sisters, as well as my own sister, made clothes and costumes. My children both enjoyed making homemade sewing projects, too.

My grandmother on my father’s side also loved to sew. Below are pictures of her sewing box. Her grandmother gave it to her for her 12th birthday in 1912.
elmerta's sewing box blueElmerta's box openedElmerta's box top shelfThe above photo is a close-up of the top drawer which lifts out to reveal the larger spools underneath.
Elmerta's box inside

elmerta's stuffed toysSew, what’s new with you? Any childhood memories of stitching, cooking, or woodworking in the classroom?

37 Comments

  1. Joyce Teal

    I wonder if we were ever in Home Ec together??
    There are so many books for kids about sewing – to learn and to read! I would encourage everyone to take it up either for the first time or as a refresher!

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    • I’m not sure, Joyce! I know you have sewn many beautiful items over the years. 🙂

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  2. Marcia– what a fun post! My grandmother sewed literally all my clothes growing up– until started babysitting and money to buy store bought clothes! Now I don’t sew clothes at all, but am amateur quilter and little projects between like Christmas stockings, pot holders. And I have not my grandmother’s sewing box but the stool that she used with her sewing machine. It has a seat that opens and is full of her old notions. Thanks for bringing back all the memories Marcia!

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    • You must have had lovely clothes growing up. And that sewing stool sounds wonderful. Great idea to store notions under the seat!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Brought back memories! Like you, I had 6 months of cookery and 6 months of needlework while the boys did woodwork and metalwork. After 3 years, when we started working towards public exams, we could select any subject we wanted. I stuck with cookery and a couple of boys joined the class, but they’d missed all the basics. One did really well, the other never caught up. I’m really thankful for that education which taught me not only the mechanics of cooking but the principles of good nutrition. I got Grade 1 in the exam! Sewing, on the other hand, I never did get the hang of, though I remember my mother making us clothes from Simplicity patterns. I used to take my sewing home from class for her to fix 😦

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    • Sounds like you had a great school system with plenty of options. Glad your mom could help you get through sewing. During my last year in high school, we got to pick half year classes and one of mine was called ‘Writing & Illustrating Children’s Books’—loved it!

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      • Wow! I’m not sure you could do that here. Obviously stood you in good stead.

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  4. Happy New Year Marcia I’m back from my two month blogging break and catching up with my favourite blogs. I’m so glad I didn’t miss this post. I adore old dressmaking patterns – just looking at the ones you share here makes me want to start collecting them! I also love the story of Corduroy but have to admit I’ve not read A pocket for Corduroy – I must address that soon. Your grandmother’s sewing box is a delight thank you so much for sharing the photographs.
    I hadn’t done any sewing for ages but with the family coming over from Australia, I started to make up a ‘dressing up’ box for the grandchildren. I found all kinds of things to put in it but had no luck in finding any ready-made cloaks (of the kind worn by Little Red Riding Hood!) so I set about making them one each. I had so much fun making them, and they enjoyed wearing them – I even embroider each of their names on them and added lots of tassels and glitter and all the other things that little girls like. The girls and their cloaks have now returned home, but their visit has given me the inspiration to try my hand at something else and your post has filled me with ideas, thank you.

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    • Welcome back, Barbara! I’m so glad you had a wonderful time with your lucky little beautiful granddaughters. They must love their new cloaks. I’ll be checking out your site to see if you got a picture of them dressing up. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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  5. Great post. Love your patterns – the bell bottoms, the empire waist dresses, the wrap around skorts! And your great great grandma’s sewing box. Ah yes…cooking class. I learned that it’s not a good idea to leave the lid on the pot while boiling noodles. Never forgot that one!

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    • Fun clothes of the times. I remember making two of the reversible wrap-around skirts, thought it was so clever to have ‘bloomers’ underneath. Sounds like quite a messy lesson you learned in cooking class! 🙂

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  6. My mom taught me to sew and cook before I even took Home Economics. So by the time I took it, I had been making my own clothes for a couple of years, I ended up being the teachers helper and assisted the other girls with their projects. I recognize some of those patterns. Love your grandmother’s sewing box!

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    • Oh, what a wonderful head start you had. You must have felt proud being the teacher’s helper and I’m sure your handmade clothes were beautiful!

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  7. Oh our school systems were the same then. I took Home Economics as well, and half the year was spent on cooking and the other on sewing. I preferred cooking, and for some reason, was always assigned to chopping the ingredients. As for sewing, I was clumsy but did manage to sew a pair of culottes. Also, guiltily, I broke my mother’s vintage sewing machine when I was furiously pedalling away. We still have it, but it can’t be used now because it seems like nobody fixes old sewing machines anymore.

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    • Interesting that Singapore had the same offering. You must have been some chopper! My sewing machine doesn’t work either. It probably just needs oil or something, but the years go by. Thanks for sharing your memories, Claudine!

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  8. I smiled while reading this post because I recalled signing up for Home economics class in High School to find out I had already taught myself the sewing skills, but I did learn how to read the patterns there. As for the cooking, I thought it was hilarious how my teacher was only using salt and pepper for seasoning. Being from Haiti I was familiar with various spice… lime and pepper… so I end up teaching the class a few tips from my culinary world. And yes, sadly those important classes no longer exist, when most girls can’t even thread a needle these days. If we ask them to boil an egg, they would answer: “Where do you keep the knife?” Thanks for visiting my blog. I always enjoy a tour from yours.

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    • Your class must have had the tastiest food of all. I love the addition of lime and I’m sure my group’s cooking results were quite bland in comparison. As processed food options get worse, maybe there’ll be a switch back to teaching kids how to prepare food from scratch. Thanks for stopping in!

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  9. Louise

    I enjoyed the trip through Memory Lane about sewing! thanks. I, too, used to make all my own clothes; today I rarely sew anything, and when I do it isn’t usually clothes–but I miss those “individual” outfits.
    Louise Pryor

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    • I agree, Louise, the best part of sewing was to have a completely original outfit. It was fun to pick out fabric, too. I think I stopped sewing after a few attempts didn’t come out too good and I realized there was something to being able to try it on first. And with great sales at places like Filene’s Basement, and then later, Marshalls and the rest of them, patterns and fabric sometimes ended up costing the same or more than store-bought. Thanks for your comment and hope to see you soon!

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  10. They stopped home ec right before I entered Jr. High, but my older sister took it. She is seven years older than me and I can still remember the patchwork, elephant ear bell bottoms she made me in 1972. They were my favorite pair of pants and I was so sad when I grew out of them. I really wish I would have been able to.take it. I might have to get one of those children’s books! The irony is, it was mandatory that I take wood shop. 🙂

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    • Those patchwork bell bottoms sound great. I’m glad you at least got to take wood shop; although never too late to learn to sew. Just writing these comments is tempting me to get back into it after not sewing for many years. 🙂

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  11. Marcia, you have such a fun-loving way of writing about such a lost art. I have to mention that a year or 2 ago, when I actually sat down and repaired the hem of a skirt (it was also an exercise in sitting still, with no rush, just thoroughly enjoying the task–quite unusual for me), I was so amazed at my success that I posted it on Facebook. And got a couple comments from girls who had been in junior high sewing class with me! Thanks for the post and the gorgeous photos!

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    • Thanks so much! I’m glad you enjoyed the post. Very cool to reconnect with your junior high sewing mates. I understand just what you mean about sitting still to sew, usually most of us rush from one thing to the next, multitasking.

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  12. My great aunt taught me how to sew when I was in second grade. For my first lessons, she had me run a lined piece of paper through the machine (w/o thread) to make straight lines of holes. When I was older, I learned more sewing through school and 4-H. I never mastered clothing, but I’ve made simple blankets, window coverings, and slipcovers.

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    • That paper lesson sounds familiar. 🙂 Slipcovers must be tricky, but I used to make a lot of curtains, too. Thanks for joining in the conversation, Deb!

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      • My slipcovers were loose-fitting envelopes for patio furniture cushions. A sofa would be much tougher!!

        Liked by 1 person

  13. Charming post

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  14. Ashley

    Great post, I love seeing your old patterns and your mom’s quilts!!

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  15. Bette Norton

    What a treat your sewing post is! Many wonderful memories of my sewing days have come flooding back!. I too learned to sew from Home Ec in the 7th grade. My mother was always sewing, making tailored suits and hats and later on quilts and would also help me with many projects. I used to run home from school to go down in my basement, where my great grandmother’s treadle sewing machine was. She had been a seamstress for her village. I made a lot of my own clothes on that machine! It would be fun to whip up an a-line flowered skirt for an upcoming dance! Years later I made my daughter some clothes and always made Halloween costumes for many years for my children. I also enjoyed making crafts, like pillows, and country dolls and bunnies. I do hope with this new generation that sewing does not become a lost art. My grandchildren do not even know what a Home Ec class is. It is sad that schools no longer see the value in having students use their creative minds and their hands to create something of their own. The feeling of accomplishment and pride in creating something that no one else has, is being lost in today’s fast pace high tech world. I am familiar with Harriet Powers and her storybook quilts and I have always had a soft spot for Corduroy and have enjoyed both of these little books! What a treasure to have your grandmothers sewing basket! Your mother’s quilt is beautiful too! Handmade items, gifts from the heart, that are passed down from the generations mean so much to people. I still have all of the dolls and beautiful pins and needlepoint, potholders, magnets and pillows that my grandmother made for me. They are near and dear to my heart.. I will always treasure them, as well as some of my mother’s beautiful quilts and afghans and two very special dolls from my sister that she made!.
    I have enjoyed your post with it’s beautiful pictures. Hmm… maybe I will bring out the old sewing machine again! You have got me in the mood! 🙂

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    • Great comment, you certainly have the sewing gene and lots of happy memories to go with it. Thanks for sharing!

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  16. I never learned to sew or cook when I was growing up. I did learn to do both after I got married. I learned how to cut out a pattern by observing my mother cut them out. There wasn’t any home economic classes at that time because it was usually taught at home. My mother was taught by her mother and was the oldest in a family of seven. I was a tomboy and wasn’t interested in learning to cook or sew. I did learn how to embroider when I was six or seven and usually did simple stitches.
    I loved your inspiring story and the pictures. It also gave my imagination a little nudge.
    I now make different stuffed animals. I am making teddy bears from my mother’s old fur coat that she wore for many years.
    Your Grandmother’s sewing box will be a treasure to own and hope you display it rather than just tuck it away someplace.

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    • Sounds like you have a great tradition of sewing and cooking passed down through your family. I’m glad you caught up with both later on. And how fabulous to make teddy bears from your mom’s old fur coat. Each bear must hold so many stories. Thanks for sharing your interesting thoughts here!

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  17. I loved reading this post, Marcia. It brought back memories of my grandmother, and it inspires me to explore more of Maine.

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