When Mom Teaches You to Sew

Some mom’s sew, some don’t. And some that do pass that skill along to their progeny. With a nod to Mother’s Day on Sunday,  Moda designers share their stories of sewing and their moms.

Jane Davidson and her mother Rhonda in 1964

 

Jane Davidson (AKA Quilt Jane)

My mum never had a moment to herself, Rhonda had 5 girls in the space of 7 1/2 years, We always had fresh-cooked meals, cakes, and slices and handmade clothes and plenty of love. In some of the photos my oldest sister sent me, we look like the Von Trapp family in their bedroom curtains! While I never sat down with mum and made clothes I watched her closely and through osmosis found a deep love for making things. I started with hand sewing dolls and dresses and graduated on to the old Singer sewing machine to pursue my passion for sewing and crafts.

Four of the five sisters in their clothes made by their mum (1971)

Sherri McConnell

I was blessed to be taught a variety of sewing and quilting skills by several women in my family. From the time I was a young girl I observed my mother, grandmother, aunt, and great-grandmother making things for others. My Mom signed me up for sewing lessons at our local Singer Sewing Machine shop when I was ten and gave me a sewing machine at that time to keep in my room. I did a lot of clothes sewing throughout high school, making a majority of my dresses, formal wear, and even my wedding dress. As a young mother, my aunt would often gift me with a creative class to take with her…I have several lovely needlework projects in my home because of those wonderful experiences.

Blocks made by Sherri’s great-great-grandmother and set together and quilted by her grandmother…”My most prized quilt possession.”

My grandmother began quilting when quilting came back into fashion in the 1970’s, and became quite accomplished, often winning ribbons for her hand-quilted and machine-pieced quilts at her quilt guild. In about 1993 I asked her to make a twin-sized quilt for my oldest, and she said “no.” She did, however, offer to teach me so that I could make the twin-sized quilt, and the rest, as they say, is history. I’m forever grateful to my Mom, my aunt, andespecially my maternal grandmother for instilling in me a love of thecreative arts and quilting.

April Rosenthal

My Mama taught me to sew from the time I could pick up a needle. First it was yarn and plastic canvas, then prequilted fabric and a needle and thread. I worked and practiced and tried to prove I was responsible enough with her tools so that one day she would let me try on her real, live sewing machine! She got a brand new Bernina 930 when I was 5 or 6, and I had to wait until I was 8 years old to use it 🙂 Mom taught me that having a quality machine and tools makes all the difference when it comes to enjoying the process. If your tools aren’t in good shape, you’re going to have a miserable time sewing, no matter how excited you are to work on a project!

Gina Martin

Two (out of many) of the things my mom taught me about sewing were to not be afraid of the machine and to consider using alternate fabrics when money is tight. I remember her making pinch pleated drapes for a wall of windows out of burlap and a cocktail dress out of drapery fabric. She’s always been resourceful!

Top: Gina at age 9 with her first sewing machine. Bottom: Gina’s mom Gale, on the treadle machine that Gina soon moved to. “I loved learning on that machine. It was a workhorse!”

Vanessa Goertzen

One of the best gifts my mother gave me was her “hands-off” approach when I made my first  quilt. Of course, she was there if I needed help—but I was largely unsupervised, having a great time just playing. Looking back now, my first quilt has plenty of flaws, but if my mother had made me pick out stitches, I never would have finished or wanted to make another.

Vanessa and her Mom

 

Debbie Maddy

My mother’s name was Mervine Reed. She was not a quilter and hated hand work but she was a fantastic garment sewer and home dec sewer. She owned a drapery and upholstery shop for years. The main thing she taught me about sewing was to take your time and the inside of a garment should be as nice as the outside.

 

Bonnie Olaveson 

I am so grateful for my Mom and grateful she taught me how to sew when I was 6. This picture was taken last year. She is almost 92, still piecing and hand quilting quilts.  We both agree that sewing has been our saving grace and helped us get through difficult challenges and believe me, my Mom has been through many. Her name is Phyllis Moss and her positive attitude and beautiful example are such a blessing to me and to our family. 

 

Sandy Gervais

As a very small child—before I was old enough to handle scissors—I would sit on a chair by my mother at the sewing machine and watch her sew. I would make a game out of guessing where the little screw on the wheel would be when the wheel stopped turning. My mother sewed all of her clothes and all of mine and my two sister’s clothes, so I spent a lot of time sitting by her side. Really I think I learned to sew by watching her. I don’t really remember her teaching me step by step instructions.

I knew all about the importance of straight of the grain, clipping curves and grading seams before I began sewing just by watching her sew all of those years. I made my first sewing project at the age of 8. It was a turquoise gathered skirt and a simple no collar top. I made it as my entry in the beginner clothing division at the Jackson County Fair. I received a blue ribbon. I grew up on a farm in Minnesota just a half mile from the Iowa border.

In this photo, Sandy is on right with glasses and 9 years old. “My mother made all of our dresses and hers too. My older sister’s and my dress were made out of organza – ITCHY fabric and also a very difficult fabric to sew. My mother was a very good seamstress!” The coloring is really bad on the picture – mine was a very pretty mint green, my older sisters was lavender and baby sisters was white.

Betsy Chutchian

My Mom did not sew. She didn’t like anything about it. She had a sewing basket with a pincushion, a couple of needles, pins saved from a purchased folded shirt, and random spools of thread. My grandmother sewed, so I’m sure she told mom that she had to have one. I can’t remember her even sewing on a button.

My mom loved to cook. She was a great cook, and she made everything from scratch and never grocery shopped from a list, nor a meal plan. She had a fully stocked pantry, at all time so that at anytime during  her day, she could bake a cake, cookies, make a pie, or make dinner from whatever was on hand.That’s exactly how stock my pantry and cook.

The composite shows Betsy’s mom later in life, as a teenager, with Betsy and her daughter in 2000, and then when Betsy was little, probably 1958, or so. “I think I’m 3 years old in the photo.”

I’ve applied the well-stocked pantry theory to my quilting life. I’ve always bought fabrics I liked, not per project, varying quantities, so that as an idea pops in my head for a scrappy quilt, I’m ready. I arrange my fabrics by color, so I can easily see, which one is low.

 

I begged for my grandmother ‘s treadle when she died in 1968 (also begged for her upright piano.) I got neither. My parents said I would never practice or use either one. In junior high, a couple of years later, I finally sewed in Homemaking class and have never stopped. Mom’s sister, my aunt Sissy gave me her 1940’s singer to use during high school. I still have that machine, and pieced a number of quilts on it.

Whenever I’m asked how much fabric to buy, I tell this story, and suggest a well-stocked pantry. Thanks Mom!

Barb Groves (Me and My Sister Designs)

This is a curler bag that my Mom made me … probably in the 60’s! It held those old pink sponge curlers and I loved it! I’ve saved it for years. I was so excited that my Mom made it for me that I couldn’t part with it. 
She made it from an old Clorox bottle. Not sure where she got the idea but I thought it was the most creative thing I’d ever seen. She sewed it on her old Kenmore sewing machine. I loved watching her sew! She never quilted but did other fun things like this.
I think this is where our creativity and love of fabric started.
It’s starting to look like an antique now but at one time it was fresh and new. Even though It’s no longer filled with pink sponge rollers it still special.

Linzee McCray

Though she never quilted, my mom engaged in just about every other form of needlework, from sewing beautifully tailored garments to upholstering furniture to smocking dresses for her granddaughters. She made numerous outfits for my sisters and I and because she grew up during the Depression she didn’t throw things away—her sewing room still has scraps from outfits she made us more than four decades ago and I’ll occasionally use some of them in my quilts.

The madras plaid in the second “row” down, near the center, is a piece from a sleeveless play top Linzee’s mom made for her more than four decades ago. A few bits of the fabric were still saved in her mom’s sewing room, so Linzee added it to her scrappy quilt.

While my mom taught me to sew, I didn’t always take well to her instruction. She’s very exacting and I’m more of a slap-dash gal. Home ec classes in junior high school helped me learn techniques sans the mother-daughter clashes that occasionally ensued. When I was in late elementary school and she bought me a Singer treadle machine for $10 at a yard sale and I was free to fiddle with it to my heart’s content (and leave her fancy German (Necchi) machine alone).

Linzee’s mom Sally sewing in 2015, at age 86.

 

As I’ve gotten older I’ve gained in appreciation for her tidy ways and she’s admired my quilting. She hasn’t sewn for a few years, but still loves fabric and seeing what I’m working on. I’m so grateful to her for filling our home with beautiful fabrics and instilling in me a love of textiles.

How about you? Did your mom teach you to sew? We’d love to hear about it!

 

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22 comments on “When Mom Teaches You to Sew

  1. Jody Randall says:

    I started sewing when about 6 yrs old and was gifted those sewing cards with the holes punched into them and you used yarn to outline the object. Both of my grandmothers did lots of handwork but it was my maternal grandmother who taught me how to sew garments. I’ve never stopped sewing! I moved from clothing to quilting about 20 years ago and never looked back.

  2. Little Quiltsong says:

    My mother did more mending than sewing garments on her Singer sewing machine, but she was always, knitting or crocheting on something. She just needed to see a picture, and voila’ – new pot holders, or doilies and other items were being made. I did knit a few slippers for my dolls, but I especially loved to cross-stitch and embroider. I actually didn’t enjoy sewing garments, till after high school, when I could choose my own patterns and fabrics, but still found garment sewing frustrating in making things ‘fit’ properly. It wasn’t until a few years ago, when discovering traditionally pieced blocks, that my love of quilting took off – and each quilt fits perfectly – no matter the size :)! Love it!!

  3. SuzK says:

    my Mom made clothes for us when we were kids, but she never taught us to sew. I started hand stitching when I was little, making doll clothes. I took a quilt class in 1974 and that was my introduction to quilting.

  4. rcwliberty says:

    My Mother and maternal grandmother didn’t sew at all. My mother in law is an accomplished seamstress and quilter. She got me started in sewing early in my marriage and we took our first quilt class together with her daughter (my sister in law). We’ve all stuck with quilting for over thirty years now. It’s my favorite hobby and I’m so thankful she got me started!

  5. Trish Palmer says:

    Great stories but don’t forget Grandma. My mother didn’t sew but I got my love of fabric and sewing from my grandmother and now I’m passing it on to grandchildren

  6. Maria Zook says:

    I began using a needle to embroider when I was about six years old and used my mom’s sewing machine a few years later to make doll clothes. My mom was very patient with me and I am forever grateful that she encouraged my love of fabric and sewing.

  7. Mary Etherington says:

    My mother hated sewing and didn’t ever want me to open up the Singer machine cabinet because of the mess sewing made. She wanted me to play golf with her – I refused. I knew I’d hate to golf! The only real instruction I ever got was a kind 4-H leader who brought me to her home for a whole day and we made a pink gingham gathered skirt to enter into the fair. Whenever Country Threads gave a program and Mom was there, she’d jokingly say ” And I taught her everything she knows!” Haha!

  8. Susie Q says:

    Well the long comment just said we don’t connect so will this connect?

  9. Ingrid says:

    My mother sewed- kinda. She had a beautiful Singer in a gorgeous cabinet that I now own. She did repairs and made fantastic Haloowee costumes. October31 was her bday! My Godmother was a seamstress and I spent time with her playing with fine fabric making doll clothes. But my passion began in grade eight home ec. Back then half the year was cooking then the other have sewing. My teacher agreed that since I already knew how to cook and bake I could take sewing for the whole year! That began my addiction. At age thirteen I received a brand new Kenmore! I made all my clothes and later on my children’s too. When I was recovering from a back injury I needed something to keep me busy and get me out of the house so my husband signed me up for six week quilting class, the rest is history. Twenty odd years later I’m still learning.

  10. Deanna Bowman says:

    i just lost my Mom suddenly Tuesday of this week. She could do anything with a sewing machine & fabric. She was always mending, patching, hemming clothes for other people. She also taught my sisters & I to knit, crochet, cross stitch, tat, very crafty, not to mention a fantastic cook from scratch. She will greatly missed not only by family & friends, but the whole community. Angel has another angel. Everyone give those Mom’s that are still with us and extra hug.

    • Gina Martin says:

      Deanna, I just want to offer you my condolences on losing your mom this week. Especially since it’s so close to Mother’s Day. She sounds like she left you and your sisters with wonderful skills.

  11. Mary Gillette says:

    My mom taught me to sew. She bought a Singer Featherweight in the 30’s and sewed with it all her life, even making my father’s suits. Later she won a newer Singer, but gave it away and kept sewing on the Featherweight. But she only sewed clothes and toys. I could never get her to quilt although I did teach her to cross-stitch.

  12. Magdalena says:

    Mis recuerdos de mi mamá son confeccionando su ropa y la nuestra, para mis hermanas y mía desde muy pequeñas, siempre acompañándola a escoger telas, sentirlas al tacto, olerlas, caminar por los pasillos viendo mucho color en cada tela y al final en un pequeño vestido, con el transcurso del tiempo mi mayor placer ha sido coser, lo que sea, actualmente elabora un quilt o un vestido es el mayor placer, tranquilidad y recuerdos que tengo, Gracias Mamá !!

  13. Peggy Terzian says:

    My mom encouraged me to start with hand sewing clothes for dolls, then I was taught to use her machine to sew my clothes. She gave me a Kenmore machine when I was 12 years old, mostly to get hers back, I’m sure! Fast forward to the year 2000, when we were together at a quilt store and saw a flyer for a Project Linus chapter starting up in our area. We came to the meeting in October, and have been churning out quilts ever since then! Mom has made over 900 quilts for Linus, and I am almost up to 600. We go almost every Saturday to one quilting session or another, and on several quilting retreats each year. I am so thankful to spend this time with her, doing what we both love!

  14. AMBER D ZONA says:

    My mom didn’t love teaching me to sew–mostly because there were usually tears and frustration (from me). She made all her clothes, as well as my sister’s and mine, and later made lots of clothing for her grandkids, mostly dresses for her only granddaughter and pajamas for the grandsons. When I was a teenager I had clothing made by her that was the envy of many of my friends, not ugly homemade things, but very stylish, custom made clothing. She loved dreaming up a project and let my sister and I plan and decide what we wanted her to make.

    Mom made tied patchwork quilts for years, taking up more intricate quilting designs and hand quilting in the last 12 years of her life, her first quilt was a “nosegay” design. She listed me as the future recipient on the label, because I was quilting already and encouraged her to do it, as well as helped her shop for the fabrics in it. She made a quilt for each of her five grandchildren, with the intention that they be their future wedding gifts. She finished the one for the youngest when he was five, and it seemed to early but I’m thankful she did that!

    So much I learned about how to do things in my stitching–the way to move my hands or to turn something–just from watching her. We spent many hours talking about sewing and quilting, and planning what we’d make. I miss that most about her, I think.

  15. Trina says:

    My mother did not sew, but my paternal grandmother and great aunt did. They grew up during the depression, children of an Appalachian coal miner, and had to be very resourceful. They taught me to sew, quilt, crochet, cross stitch, and hook rugs. After they both passed away I inherited all of their old sewing machines, cabinets, supplies, and quilts. I wish there had been some old fabric left over! My grandmother’s Singer 301 is still my go-to for piecing.

  16. Wendy P Madden says:

    My mom and aunt were both remarkable seamstresses. They sewed all their clothes in the 1940’s because they wanted to look fabulous and stylish. My earliest memory of watching my mom sewing was when I was about 4 years old. In the evenings, as we all watched TV, she would sew on her White Rotary machine in the corner of the living room, making dresses for my 2 sisters and I and also making our Barbies’ clothes (although most of those tiny Barbie clothes she sewed by hand!) It seemed like such a normal thing to have a mother that sewed. Yet, as I grew up it turned out no one else’s mom sewed. In fact, my mom eventually started sewing outfits for her friends and neighbors, including evening gowns! My aunt would come over about every other weekend to lay out fabric and cut out patterns with my mom on the kitchen table, and I sat listening and absorbing everything. I found it fascinating! When I turned 8 my mom finally showed me how to use her White Rotary and helped me sew my first Easter dress. I began sewing from then on. I stopped sewing in the 1980’s because it seemed that it was cheaper to buy clothes than make them. The price of fabrics, patterns and notions all seemed to skyrocket during that time. I began cross-stitching at that time, and still do. My oldest sister was never bitten by the sewing bug, but she crochets beautifully. My other sister absolutely hated sewing, especially on a machine, but she draws and paints and has a wonderful eye for detail and color. That sister began quilting in the early 1990’s, and mostly all of her quilts were pieced and quilted by hand. I learned a lot about quilting from her. In 2006 I made my first quilt and surprised my sister with it for Christmas that year. She returned it to me, though, saying that she wanted me to keep it, as to cherish it as the very first quilt I made from start to finish. I continue to quilt and now consider it my passion. All in all, I am so grateful to be part of a family of creative, hands-on women!

  17. Carrie Nelson says:

    Linzee – your timing is perfect, I love this post.

    My Mom sewed, mostly out of necessity rather than a real love for it. What she loved was making something for someone she loved – like the rather large wardrobe she made for my Barbie doll one Christmas when I was five. We were living in Colombia so buying Barbie clothes wasn’t easily done. She “taught me to sew” by insisting that I take a class at the Singer Sewing Center because “best I learn my own bad habits instead of hers.”

    I particularly love this because my Mom’s birthday always fell around Mother’s Day and she’s been in my thoughts all week. Thank you.

  18. Nancy Holley says:

    – [ ] I was so fortunate to grow up in a house full of “creatives”! I am one of four girls born in five years to a farmer’s wife. Our mom practiced many different arts throughout our childhood from painting to ceramics to anything with a needle, but she has always come back to her sewing machine as a favorite. One of my favorite stories that I love to tell is how we would go to the lake house for months during the summer and before we were allowed to jump into the water we’d have to make our own bathing suits! The best part…Mama was smart enough to add ruffles across the seat so that when we sat on the end of the dock we wouldn’t rub holes through them! She made countless Easter dresses with beautifully smocked details. She sewed more than one clogging dress with endless gingham ruffles for each of the four of us! She even created a pair of beaded heels that matched my prom dress perfectly!
    – [ ] The best part of living in a house like ours was that she really instilled in us the power and beauty of being a life long learner. Mama was always signed up for a class (and bought the book) to learn the latest technique and if we ever showed any interest she’d happily sign us up too. One time we even made these sweet mice from brown towels, complete with blue aprons, hats and whiskers! Fun! Throughout our teenage years she added to our style in any way that was “cool” and created things we’d wear with pride. I can’t tell you the number of scrunchies the four of us “needed” during the 80s! We also had the best details added to our cheer tryouts shirts or dance costumes. We could dream up whatever and she’d guide us through our wild ideas with patience and love. She’d never tell us no, but there was an expectation to try it ourselves. Mistakes were necessary for learning and figuring out a fix was secretly her favorite part! Since we’ve grown up and added more to the troupe Mama became Granny and her desire to share this passion has multiplied. Pinterest has blossomed and 13 teenagers have LOTS of access to literally millions of unique ideas. The best part…they all know “Granny will be able to teach me this!” So the kids (even the boys) can come to Granny’s sewing porch with any kind of project or request and she has the fix in a drawer or in a book out there somewhere. Our mom is the best teacher and in just a few minutes she’s got whichever one of us fulfilling our Pinterest dreams!
    – [ ] I think my favorite thing about my mom is how passionate she is about learning and then sharing her craft. There isn’t a mathematical calculation she can’t figure out. She tweaks patterns to make the cuts more efficient and she’s always ready to share a new way to save time or materials. She loves to share and always has resources readily available, but never pushes anything on any of us. When my daughter was just toddling we went to visit my parents for an extended stay and upon arriving back at our house she quickly announced that she wished we had a porch like Granny’s. I had to just lean my head back and smile! Yes, Audrey, yes a porch like Granny’s would be wonderful, but it’s nothing without my Mama to go with it!

  19. Carol A. Kuse says:

    My mother’s mother was a professional seamstress. I can remember her making a white slipper satin wedding dress with cathedral train and long fitted sleeves with a loop to go onto the brides middle finger to keep them tight. She never used a pattern, but she sure used up every sheet in the house that was not currently on a bed. If we stood still long enough, I think she would have covered us with a sheet to keep the dress clean. At 70 she became the alterations lady for one on the finest lady’s stores in our hometown. She was also a great cook who never used a recipe.
    Grandma taught me to sew on her treadle machine (the same one she used for the wedding dress). I can remember Mother sewing some and mending, but when I was grown, she told me she was so glad when I learned to sew so she could quit.
    She did quilt all of her life. Always by hand. She was one of those children who played under the quilt frame when it was set up. When she got older, she graduated to playing on the quilt in the frame. Her mother always told her that she didn’t quilt so her daughter and mother could. Someone had to work on the farm.
    I thank all three of them all the time for teaching me the value of fabric and what could be done with it.

  20. Cynthia Scharf says:

    Barb Groves–Thank you for reminding me of those bleach bottle totes! I had one, too, although it hasn’t survived until now!

  21. Barbara says:

    My Mother taught me to sew when I was just 9 years old. She was a talented seamstress and made clothes for my sister and me and also for every doll we loved! She would sew late into the night and I can still her with “pins” in her mouth! She handmade only one quilt – a Cathedral Window which I have and so treasure. When I began making quilts she was thrilled. As she grew older and lost her vision, she would visit quilt shops with me and spend her time talking with the sales personnel while I shopped. To this day each time I sit down to the humming of my sewing machine I feel a deep connection to my mother 🙂 I have been told my hands are a mirror image of hers and I feel sewing is our bond.

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