The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

Coming full circle – sorta

When I was a young tyke – around the paleolithic era (OK, not funny – but it’s an effort!), and going to school and wanting to first enter Home Ec (that’s what it was called back then),  I was eager to learn to sew.  I was fortunate it wasn’t finances or real estate, or some other more business-y like vocation.  At this time, the world was still very glass-ceiling-ed in the business world, although I did have female members of my family who had shattered the glass ceiling, it still wasn’t promoted and especially encouraged.

I had shown an aptitude for sewing and designing and so I was anxiously awaiting my turn to learn in “Home Ec” about all the sewing and designing things I could make.  Upon entering the class a kit was laid out for us, and we were told to make a bib.

A bib?

Are you kidding?

I’ve been drawing up patterns for my Barbie for 4 years so I can make a bib?

What’s wrong with this picture?

So, in my naivete I immediately exclaimed that this was not a good message to send to today’s women – to get married and have kids and life’s fulfillment would be guaranteed.


Massive negotiations between my mother and the principal followed with a solemn promise that I would no longer dawn the door of the Home Ec department ever again.

I wasn’t sure at the time what was going on, but I also knew I didn’t want to go back to that antiquated place.

But here’s the twist in all this.  I was a child of the early 60’s – not yet in full women’s liberation mode, just before.  And unbeknownst to me, part of why I was so encouraged to sew, was because it was part of that old established thinking about women having domestic abilities – one of which was sewing – designing not so much, but sewing definitely.

I had chosen sewing and designing because I loved it – not because it was an old-fashioned idea about what women were supposed to do with their lives.  So I was bridging between two worlds without even realizing it.

Today, this still causes problems.  Yes, women are more and more breaking the glass ceiling and testing it’s limits, and well they should.  But there are still certain areas that are, maybe not verboten, but certainly not encouraged.

If a woman wants to study sewing or cooking or truly has a love of being a  mother – there’s a certain part of our current thinking that looks down on this as being “second class” or not good enough for our educated and aspiring women.

If you want to study sewing, most women are met with, well, it’s OK, but you should really try and do something more.  After all this is not really what women should aspire to.

It’s as if there’s some reverse discrimination going on.  If you choose to have interests that were deemed prize-worthy in the 50’s and early 60’s, today that is looked upon as some demeaning vocation – or at best, maybe it’s a fleeting interest and as soon as you wake up then you will want to go to work in the business environment and you’ll be so much more fulfilled.


The whole idea about a liberation is so that we are liberated to make our own decisions – male and female.  It’s just unfortunate that sometimes when those choices are made that were considered old and out of style, that they therefore don’t garner the same admiration as those choices that are considered more progressive or in style.

The difference in admiration and respect from being a person who sews to being a person who designs is like the Pacific Ocean.  It’s huge.  One is a creator while the other is just a perfunctory robot;  one is glamorous and the other is mundane;  one is full of exciting possibilities and the other is staid and old-fashioned.

No wonder all the designers on the reality fashion shows on TV don’t want to sew – not only are they not encouraged (and it’s probably hardly ever offered as a course), but if they do sew, it’s probably by happenstance more than anything else.

Even my own path reflected this.  By the time I got to college (and away from the banishment of the high school Home Ec dept!), the women’s movement was in full force.  There was little encouragement and especially wasn’t mention to study anything like this in college.  It wasn’t offered for one thing, and because it was considered so old-fashioned, what school would want to promote or offer old, staid, out-of-date courses or curriculum – how would that get any students to come to their school.  I turned to studying art, which was much more encouraged – it’s more erudite, certainly more reflective of the more modern woman and the liberation than sewing, cleaning and homemaking.

But I never lost my love of sewing.

I’d like to choose to express myself in what might have been considered old-fashioned in the 60’s but in my mind today it is a much more artistic form.  Sewing, like the women’s movement has changed, and it’s certainly not that stay-at-home girl who wouldn’t think of a glass ceiling, much less breaking it.

Sewing isn’t strictly for saving money – although that’s nice.  Sewing is more for expressing yourself in a very personal way that no other art form can really fulfill.  It is a way to express yourself in your daily wear that can make you look: head of a company, chairing a meeting, making a presentation, arguing a case in court, speaking to an audience and even teaching to a class.  It’s all in the way you dress, and if you want something personal, there are two ways to get it:  hire your own personal designer to make it up for you or you can design it and make it yourself.  I much prefer the later – there’s more control and infinitely more satisfaction.

Sewing has changed from what we knew it to be in the 50’s  and early 60’s.

And it’s getting ready to change a lot more as it comes full circle.


  1. Good Morning Claire,

    You and I have very similar paths, though I did go
    on to study apparel design, before business and the
    returning to design. I love what you have written. I did not
    take home ec b/c I was already making clothing.
    on my first day of high school I went to ask the sewing
    instructor which class I should sign up for. She gestured
    at my jacket and pants (a very cool printed corduroy
    number) and said “did you make this, dear?” When I
    nodded yes, she said “oh my sign up for the advanced
    class.” I got to be a leader there-though didn’t
    realize it then. I started each day with an hour of
    sewing… Thanks for listening to me reminisce.
    On another note, these days I rarely find that sewing
    Rarely saves me money. I chalk that up to my love of
    Fine fabrics.

    • Loved your path – we all take a different path and they are all interesting.

      I think the major reason clothing doesn’t save money – upfront – is because it is competing with the throw-away fashion of Wal-Mart and exported workmanship. This is at slave wages and there is no way to compete with that.

      What is very competitive is good construction and fabric quality. This will far outlast any slave-wage workmanship – and here is where the real bargain is. If you make something today for $500, but it lasts for 10 years, that $50/year. If you buy something at slave-wage-construction costs, and it costs $30 ad lasts for 6 months, then you have to buy another or maybe even 3 – that’s $60/year or $90/year, plus you have to keep buying it and buying it. What happens if it’s your favorite but can’t get it next year, but the one you made is your favorite and you get to wear it over and over.

      This is the real bargain to me.

  2. Home Ec was offered in my small high school and it did supplement skills that would help later in life. We did not have to make bibs. I was already making skirts, remember the full gathered skirts, so already had some sewing experience. During high school and college, I used Vogue Patterns exclusively and learned quite a bit from them. My college experience revolved around Theatre, English, and some Tailoring classes and I fearlessly made the suits of the 1960’s, I worked in the factory during the summers and in my late 20’s built a Heathkit 21″ color TV from the circuit board up . My sister was the one who hit the glass ceiling in high school. Mechanically inclined she wanted to take mechanical drawing classes but was not allowed to because they were “boy’s classes”. It was a great disappointment to her and I am afraid that my parents did not stand up for her as much as they should have. They did realize that later and regretted it. Penny later started a course of computer study back when computers were still miles of wires and she understood it! She was unable to continue, but I am still amazed.

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