Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A So-so Sewing Experience

Carolyn J. Rose

While subbing in fashion marketing class, I watched students creating designs for dresses and stitching them 
up using toilet paper instead of cloth.

If you think that’s difficult, you’re right.

Their frustrations and triumphs took me back to junior high and those then-obligatory Home Ec classes—or Home Ick classes as I called them—and the sewing projects that stood between me and a decent grade.

The first was an apron. (Note: this was back in the day when every woman I knew wore an apron, some all day long. Nowadays, if there’s no way to avoid cooking, I throw on an old T-shirt.)

The plan for the apron was to attach a small square of fabric to a larger one using a long strip that would tie around the waist. A loop attached to the smaller square went around the neck.

To make certain we all got a good foundation for the project, the teacher had us measure, measure again, pin, cut, pin, mark, baste, and sew. In my case, there were additional steps: rip out and sew again. By the time I presented it to my mother, my apron looked like something assembled for Frankenstein’s monster.

The second project was a skirt—a gathered skirt. It’s a fact of fashion that gathered skirts were designed for women with waists like Scarlett O’Hara and not too much in the hip department. It’s a fact of life that I’m not one of those women. I petitioned to be allowed to make a straight skirt and began another round of pinning, marking, cutting, basting, sewing, and ripping out.

With a week left in the semester, my skirt was still in pieces, ragged and frayed pieces, because of the many times I ripped out seams and darts. At the end of her rope, the teacher allowed me to take it home and finish over the weekend. At the end of my rope, I handed it off to my grandmother, the woman who made many of my clothes from the time I was born.

She had it completed and ironed by Saturday afternoon. With a smug smile, I turned it in Monday morning.

On Wednesday I got my grade: B-.

I was fine with that, but my grandmother was livid. “B-,” she raged. “That skirt was perfect. I’m going to complain to the teacher.”

“And admit you did the work?” I asked. “And watch her give me an F?”

Caught between the rock of getting her darling granddaughter in trouble and the hard place of swallowing the poison pill of that grade, she swallowed.

Looking back, I see that I learned larger lessons, lessons that had nothing to do with how to make an apron or cheat at making a skirt. I learned that love can trump pride. I learned that more patience would serve me well. And I learned that I wanted to have a career that paid well enough so I could buy clothes off the rack.


  1. Hi Carolyn,

    We had almost identical lessons and projects to the ones you describe in the needlework classes of my youth. Like yourself, the finer points of the lessons also escaped me and I was just about the only one who never got to complete the basic apron. These days, I sew a button on if it is vital, but anything else needs repairing, then I am afraid that it's a trip to the shopping centre!

    The problem with those early classes, was that the teacher was the wife of the English teacher, which was a lesson I enjoyed, looked forward to and was frankly very good at. I am still in touch with that same English teacher, who is now in his 80's, although sadly his wife passed away several years ago. He will still remind me of conversations they had at home, when my less than enthusiastic efforts with needle and cotton, were compared to my vastly better attempts at Italic writing.


    1. It's wonderful you're still in touch. I was also lucky to have a favorite English teacher, but she's been gone for many long years and I wish now I'd been better at keeping in touch.