Going through things and sorting is a never-ending task at the shop. Today I pull out a box of my old sewing supplies and decide it is time to purge and throw or give away that which I cannot use. Tucked away in this box is a tiny crocheted hat, about three inches in diameter.
“In my crown your thimble hide; in my felt your needle ride,” reads the carefully typed note pinned to the brim. In the crown is indeed a little golden thimble, and in the felt are two very tiny hand quilting needles (my eyes cannot begin to see the eye in this little needle). This little treasure was given to my Mammau, my father’s mother (who taught me to sew when I was 6 years old), as a remembrance from one of her friends in her sewing circle, and Mammau passed it down to me. These sewing women I met on occasion, and they were very sweet and thoughtful to one another. They cared for one another. They always welcomed me when my Mammau brought me with her to those gatherings. They taught me embroidery and hand-quilting.
These women all looked like Aunt Bee from the Andy Griffith Show. Hats and gloves were worn, but removed when they began sewing. Coffee was served in little demitasse cups, and always a sweet of some kind had me drooling.
I look at this little crocheted hat and think about the person that made it – the work and care they put into it – and I wonder where it will go from here. Who will care for it, protect it? I do not have the heart to part with it, although I will never use it because it is much too fragile. The next generation will make that decision for me.
What do you keep (or treasure, hoard or stash away!) even though you know you will never use it? Why do you keep holding on to it?
See this dress? Does it look easy to sew/make?
Every day in the shop a few people walk in and ask about sewing lessons. We get phone calls every day asking the same. I always like to get to know them, what their goals are, whether or not they have a sewing machine and we talk about their experience with mother, grandmother or aunts who may have sewn. Most students enjoy the conversation and can’t wait to dive into sewing. They realize that learning to sew is a process that takes time.
About once or twice a month someone walks in and asks to learn to sew because they have one thing they want to make. And they want to make it by next week. And all they have is a photo on their cell phone. This ambitious project is usually (but not always) something made from lycra and lace and very stretchy. Definitely not something a beginner will tackle in their first lesson.
When I tell these ambitious potential students about the learning curve involved in sewing, that they must learn how a sewing machine operates, how to thread it, and how to sew a straight line before they make their first item – a simple project like a pillow or tote bag – some decide they do not have the patience for all that. Some become intrigued and decide to undertake a series of classes regardless of the time it takes to learn. Sewing is not for everyone.
Five Things You Need to Know if You Want to Learn to Sew:
1. Take sewing classes. Sewing may or may not be something you enjoy. Start simple, and if you enjoy the process think about buying a machine.
2. Do not rush to buy a machine. I know several people who decided they were going to learn to sew and bought a machine that just sits in their closet. They did not enjoy sewing as much as they had hoped. Before you purchase a sewing machine, ask your friends that sew what type machine they use. Test out different brands of machines when you take lessons. Choose a machine that you are comfortable using. Never order a machine online unless you are familiar with the brand name and model and have some experience with that type machine. You may luck out and find one for sale on Craigslist or an estate sale. The more you know about how a machine operates and how to use it the more qualified you are to purchase your machine.
3. Gather the proper and necessary tools and have a box or tote to store them all in. Basic supplies can be purchased at reasonable prices. What do you need? Good shears in two or three sizes; thread in various colors; seam ripper; measuring tape; seam gauge or small ruler; iron and ironing board; straight pins; disappearing or erasable fabric marking pen/pencils; safety pins; sewing clips; thimble; hand-sewing needles; pincushion. There are many other supplies to consider later on.
4. Learn to do basic hand-sewing. Sewing on buttons, hemming a skirt, mending a pair of pants – all this will build your hand-sewing skills. All machine sewing involves hand-sewing in the finish work. YouTube has wonderful tutorials in just about any area of sewing.
5. Go easy on yourself. Take your time in learning to read and understand a pattern. Choose patterns for beginners or purchase a beginner sewing book that includes patterns.
Sewing is mostly a solitary process, but it doesn’t have to be. To really enjoy sewing, find a sewing community where you can learn tips and tricks of long-time sewists and quilters. Sewists love to gather and share projects and ideas. Sew social!
Call our shop if you’re ready!
This is one of my paternal grandmother’s quilts, and it is over 100 years old. My Mammau. She was from Bayou La Fourche, Des Allmandes and Jacoby, Louisiana. I have no idea what happened to her other quilts but I am very pleased that this one was put in my care, moved from house to house, lovingly packed each time. The colors are still lovely, vivid and clear. The fabrics appear to be clothing remnants, flour sacks and such. The star patterns are not all the same design.
The faded, rough backing
The backing is also interesting – I have not been able to identify what the textiles are. Loosely woven work clothing perhaps, faded whites and blues, and the batting layer is still intact and very thick. The entire quilt is quite heavy, large and of course it’s all hand-stitched. My Mammau taught me to sew on her 1918 Singer treadle machine.
I would love to try and duplicate her patterns in this quilt but the thought of all those little pieces gives me a headache. Ok, I love to quilt – just not with pieces this small. So how do I reconcile my love of quilts and quilting and my aversion to tiny piecing? Because I know how quilting and sewing can enhance a life, and even change one’s emotional perspective. It’s all about creativity and community.
Therefore, I want to join with Scott Fortunoff of Blank Quilting Company in starting the “Sewing Revolution of 2018”. In his most recent blog, he said the following:
- I am going to continue to urge people to teach others how to sew and quilt.
- I am going to try to convince people to get a new machine and give away their old one to someone that can’t afford one.
- I am going to keep selling more fabric, of course.
- I am going to continue to donate fabric to those who can’t afford it.
If you say it more and more, people will believe it and they may venture to jump in. And in Scott’s words: “We cannot allow this great art to wither away and become a lost art” when it is so easy to embrace. “What is going to be your contribution to the Sewing Revolution?” Let’s do this and let’s have fun doing it.
Sew………. are you with me?
Mary Ann Pettway
The long leaf pines swayed in the mountain breeze. The atmosphere inside electric with color, song and humming sewing machines. This past week I attended a 4-day Gee’s Bend Quilting retreat in the beautiful rolling hills of northern Alabama. We were in the midst of two inspiring Gee’s Bend quilters: Mary Ann Pettway and China Pettway.
The Pettways have an interesting way of teaching. Demonstrating, then observing. Showing, then praising. They loved us through the process until we “got it”. The quilting itself was not the Big Thing. The Big Thing was the small voice inside that spoke through our hands as we worked. From time to time the Pettways would break into song – sounds of praise so deep, the voices of the two women reverberated in that room so that anyone would have thought there was a choir of twenty.
Basil ready to slice his strips into angles
There were fifteen quilters. Basil, the only male quilter there, is an art quilter from St. Louis. Arleen brought her Gee’s Bend Quilts book for the ladies to sign. She worked quietly in the corner and produced gorgeous angles in her blocks – obvious that she had studied the style prior to the workshop. Others struggled to let go of all they had learned about quilting to learn a new way of sewing tiny pieces of fabrics together.
“Yes, you’ve got it! You’re quilting the Gee’s Bend way.”
When one of us heard that, we knew we finally understood that we were slicing and dicing our way into a new way of quilting. On the 2nd day, I finally got it. Allow the Spirit to take over in your sewing! Sew with your soul instead of what the world says you should do. Forget about straight lines. Forget about patterns. Forget about bringing a preconceived notion of what you will make. Let the quilt develop into what it wants to be.
“You’ve got it.”
“That’s where the art is,” China Pettway says.
What have you learned to do in a new way? When have you realized that they way you have always done something may not the only way, the best way?
I’m sending out a huge Thank You to the Gee’s Bend Quilters and the Alabama Folk School at Camp McDowell!
a few quilts the Pettways brought with them
My husband Robert and I have worked together in Honduras and Panama. One of the things that impressed us was the resourcefulness of the people in recycling goods. There was very little trash. They used up everything they had. Picked up used nails. Wove baskets from weeds, stitched clothing from scraps. We could not help but think of all that our culture of abundance throws away.
My mother was born in 1915. May father in 1912. Depression era mentality. Culture of lack. My father never threw away anything. My mother used to melt together the leftover small slivers of soap. I have stories.
Today I completed a hand-stitched quilt made of throw-a-way fabric. Small pieces of linen leftover from garments I have sewn. Small lengths of embroidery threads. A small piece of loosely-woven multi-color cotton homespun-type fabric I’ve been hoarding for a long time.
front – embroidery and hand stitching
back – We are all made of stars
I have a difficult time throwing away small scraps of fabric. Among other things.
What do you have a difficult time throwing away?