Learning to Sew


I began learning to sew when I was in the eighth grade. I begged my mother to teach me much earlier, but she believed I should wait and learn the “correct” way by taking a home economics class at school. I remember eagerly buying my first pattern, a smock top with a yoke, heart-shaped pockets, and butterfly sleeves. (Yes, I know I’m dating myself here!) I searched the fabric store for just the right fabric, thread and notions. I selected a white cotton background with little navy blue sailboats floating across it. The yoke and pockets were a coordinating navy blue and I trimmed it with oversized rick rack. As a first attempt, the end result was amateurish, but I wore it proudly and couldn’t wait to tackle my next sewing project.

While I no longer have the original pattern for my first sewing project, I was able to find this picture of it online.

In the years following, I made much of my own clothing, taking on increasingly more difficult projects. I must admit that I was not a perfectionist about my early stitching endeavors. Impatient to get the piece finished, I usually sped through the process, leaving puckers, crooked top stitching, uneven hemlines and other signs of a novice seamstress in my wake!

I made this pattern later in high school. Looking at it now, I can see that there was no way I could have done a good job on such a complicated pattern with my beginner sewing skills. With its inset yoke, pleated bodice and lots of top-stitching, my garment must have looked very homemade.

My sewing skills did improve over the years and my interests later shifted from clothing to home decor. Sewing for the home is relatively easy compared to making clothing, as it tends to be mostly straight line stitching. I’ve probably saved thousands of dollars by making my own curtains, duvets, pillows and slipcovers. One of my greatest pleasures is revamping a tired room with fresh pillows or new curtains and I love giving my home a custom look on a budget.

I made this pillow from a vintage cotton sugar sack that I purchased at an auction years ago. While faded, I could make out the words “Hershey” and “Cuba” on the fabric. After a bit of research, I learned that Hershey’s owned a large sugar plantation and refinery in Cuba between 1916 – 1947. The sugar was imported to supply the growing chocolate empire in Pennsylvania.


Another pattern I made during my high school years. The classic wrap dress will never really go out of style.

Given the influx of inexpensive textile imports over the past few decades, it is often no longer cost effective to make one’s own clothing or home furnishings. However I still enjoy the process of occasionally pulling out my sewing machine and creating something unique.

I made five pairs of these white linen drapes about ten years ago and have used them in three different homes since then.

Did you ever sew a garment or something for your home? Do you remember your first sewing project? If so, I’d love to hear about your creations.


8 thoughts on “Learning to Sew

  1. At least you got to make something cute to wear. Our home ec. teacher had us make apons. :/ I still have it, but I never wear it because I just never wear aprons. A cute top would have had more mileage from me.

    My mom used to sew when I was little, so I used to use her scraps to make things. My first ever sewing project was probably when I was about 4 or 5. It was a stuffed cat. I drew the pattern (so, it looked really wonky from the get-go), cut the back half from denim and the front half from a complementary blue fabric. Then sewed the two pieces together (badly). LoL … Then I painted the face on the front with liquid embroidery. I have no idea where that thing is, but I remember it well. Later I made a sock monkey. And then the apron in high school. And that was the end of my interest in sewing until I got married and had kids. I got interested in all kinds of crafts once I could decorate my own space and my own “dolls”. 😉

    I have done cushion covers and slip covers for sofas and chairs, drapes and curtains, a quilt, pillow cases, recovered throw pillows, baby clothes and nursery items, and simple kitchen things like napkins and towels. Now I’m more into trying to upcycle old leftovers. I turned a sweater into a cat bed, meshed a shirt and skirt into a longer baby-doll top … that sort of thing. But I’m honestly not a very good seamstress, so I really wish I was better with making clothes from patterns and stuff like that.

    1. “aprons” … geeze, you can tell I’m tired from editing all morning … What 14 year old isn’t excited to make her first apron!

    2. Knowing your mom, I’m sure the little kitty you made is stored away somewhere! If you’ve made furniture slipcovers, you are more than a novice seamstress. Those are among the most difficult projects I’ve ever made and I’ve yet to make one that I’ve been truly happy with. (I’m talking about sofas or chairs–things with arms to work around.)

      1. I know! They were a pain in the butt to do, but I bought foam cushions to replace the ones that were crumbling from age, bought a pattern, bought a ton of mint green velour upholstery fabric and thread, and jumped right in without having a clue about what I was doing. They came out pretty good … considering I had no idea what I was doing. LOL … But I wouldn’t do it again. Nope. I did a sofa and armchair, and that was plenty for me. We later junked the slipcovers and the furniture due to downsizing for (yet another) move. But the foam cushions that I bought and covered lasted for decades as playthings, sitting cushions, and tumbling cushions for the kids. 🙂 … And you’re probably right about the kitty being stashed somewhere. LoL …

  2. Hi Kathy!

    I don’t think you want to “hear about my creations.” Over a lifetime, my occasional forays into the world of sewing were largely failures. Or in the case of my graduation dress in 8th grade, it might have qualified as a “large failure” since in cutting the fabric from the pattern, I inadvertently left additional material in the front of the dress, instead of along the side seams.

    In the midst of that debacle, my mother took me to Florida to visit my grandma. We spent a day taking transportation to the town of Hialeah to seek out a Singer Sewing Shop. The matter was solved by “converting” what should have been a sweetheart neckline into a gathered one. Needless to say, I did not win the sewing award.

    My mother was a decent seamstress. She was a businesswoman who frequently took along sewing when she traveled her sales territory by train. According to her, conductors would comment on her sewing projects. Invariably, she was making something for me to wear. Her skills were not fine-tuned, but she left the button-holing and fancy pockets to our next door neighbor, an older woman from Greece who was a professional seamstress.

    Since I grew up in the Great Depression my mother would buy me simple dresses and then have our Greek neighbor or another one named Peggy Poindexter — a dress buyer for a Manhattan department store — “augment” the garment by adding lace or flowers and streamers at the waist, etc.

    My mother never taught me to sew. I don’t think she had the patience or the interest.Or maybe she figured I did not have the temperament. Anyway, at some point in my adult life I took a sewing course at a local community college. I was a greenhorn. I had no knowledge of terms like “cutting on the bias.” I did my assignments, which consisted of making a skirt and a blouse. I remember them vividly, but not with affection. On the final day of class I wore them — to considerable applause. But I never wore them again.

    Today I skipped class because one of my neighbors invited me to breakfast and to view the eclipss through a special filter he had devised. His balcony is located in a different
    location than mine, from which the moon is not visible. I have a feeling Jose and company were all eagerly looking heavenward.



  3. I guess sewing is not for everyone! Fortunately you have other talents that have more than made up for the lack of success in this one area. 🙂

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