In Junior High, all girls in the 7th grade took sewing. (Boys took woodworking.) We used treadle machines which required delicate foot work, and we were all scared to death of the teacher because if you didn’t listen or made a mistake she would chastise you loudly. She certainly didn’t tolerate whispering, my downfall. She was not in the least friendly, but she was an excellent instructor.
We had to bring in a certain yardage of white percale, white thread, and red embroidery floss. First we made cobbler aprons so we could learn to pin and cut a pattern. Then we learned to thread the machine and do some basics such as regular seams and a particular way to finish off thread. We also learned how to make a flat-felled seam, bound buttonholes and, attach a button using the shank method. After cutting and sewing the headband, we embroidered our initials with the red thread, using a simple backhand stitch and a French knot after each initial.
I really liked sewing and supplemented the lessons with instruction from a friend’s mother who helped us each make a pair of pj’s. The summer between 9th and 10th grade, I took a Singer Sewing Machine dress-making course which, not surprisingly, focused on the use of sewing machine attachments that made sewing both easier and more professional-looking. The course ended with a fashion show and contest in which I won first prize for what I realized later was a really ugly dress. The prize was a set of four different shears which I still use today.
I began making some of my own clothes. One favorite outfit was a dress and jacket in a beautiful spring- green light-weight wool. I followed lots of complicated directions, but I was stymied by the jacket cuffs. I got so upset about this that my mother told me to go for a walk. When I got back, she had fixed the cuffs but said to me, “Dorothy, I will pay you if you don’t sew anymore.”
Sewing surged again when I made all my maternity clothes, later clothes for the kids, and drapes and curtains. Then I went back to teaching full time and I only sewed when I had to make costumes: Holly Hobby, Raggedly Ann, a giant M&M, and, for the bicentennial, a boy’s knickers and a shirt with a jabot.
These days my sewing consists of sewing on buttons, but over the years the skill has definitely served me well. Thank you, Miss Viola Mahoney.
© Dorothy C. Judd
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