The Savvy Sage of Sewing Stimulation

Promises Kept

Years ago, when I was a feisty young thing, I didn’t have enough sense to pick out a vocation that would be easy to find mentors, teachers, and educators.  I had to pick some obscure passion for sewing.  About the time I got ready to learn how to sew, teachers, mentors, education systems and institutions were void of sewing and anything that was close to Home Economics.  Well, that’s OK, I thought, I’ll try elsewhere.  Every once in a while on my search for sewing education, a piece of fabric would tempt sing to me “Try Me!  I’m not all that hard!”  Yeah, right.  Once again into the fray, and once again failure abounds.  And all the while, I knew it couldn’t be that hard, cause I was looking at stuff in the store and thought, “Gee I like the technique here, I don’t like the style or fabric or color or….., but I know I could learn this.  It can’t be that hard to make a garment!”

Enter my Aunt
She had gone to the nearest metropolitan area to get the latest supped-up Singer sewing machine.  I was sewing on a one-step-up from a treadle machine that was something my grandmother had in her attic.  And there was nothing like this sewing machine in my small little town, so I knew she had to get it out of town.  She invited me down to use her machine and it was heaven.  I think I put together a dress in a couple of hours.  Understand, I had all this stored up inside of me for years, so I had about a gazillion ideas on what to do.  So naturally I had a plan and it went like zip and I was done.  I think I scared my aunt to death when I did my first seam.  I put the peddle to the metal and off I was going!

Later in school, sewing wasn’t available and when it was, it was very disappointing – hence the bib fiasco.  You can read more about that here.  And college was no better, about as close as I could get to learning sewing was to major in art, and as usual, God knew what he was doing, cause as it turned out that’s probably what I needed at that time.

My Mary-Tyler-Moore days
Here I am in the big city, and this city had a creme-de-la-creme fashion fabric store.  I still have a dress that I made from the fabric from that store.  When I was blue and wanted a quick pick-me-up, I would get a quickie lunch and the trek down to the fabric store during my lunch hour and oodle and aaaah at the beautiful fabrics.  But that was about as close as I could get.  Enter marriage, and having an apartment and I quit work.  Let me tell you, you can only clean a one-bedroom apartment so many times, and then it gets to be abuse for the apartment AND me!  So we purchased a lovely home.  There at least I could stay a little busier doing some hausfrau things but still had no direction or purpose.

Finally an ad in the local paper
Advertising an 8-week class taught by a designer/sewist, who I knew sewed for the rich and famous in the city, and she was giving classes, and I thought, “Well, we’ll just see how much this famous ‘sewist’ knows about sewing!”  I took a shirt pattern, with set in sleeve, collar band, collar, housetop placket in front thinking this would take the whole 8 weeks.  It took me two weeks.  Then I turned to my teacher and asked her if she would teach me to make a coat – she said of course.

I order the fabric from New York in the style of the latest coats, which was this Ralph Lauren Craze of huge plaids (on the right below)

And my coat on the left above – and yes, I matched the plaid, and the patch pockets in front matched as well.  I loved this coat, but even more, I had learned the skills to make this coat, and I was off and running.  I had found my teacher.  I can not tell you my excitement when I discovered that this lady knew just about everything I wanted to learn.  Well, maybe you can see my excitement above.  This pretty much describes it.  After the 8 week classes, I asked what was next, and she explained that class was over.  OVER – CLASS WAS O-V-E-R!  NO!  I had found the teacher of my dreams and CLASS WAS OVER!!!  I think she and the lady who had sponsored the class, had pity on me and that very day we set up another class session.  The 8-week classes went on for 1 year, and then we worked out a deal that my mentor, who lived in another city, would come to the home of a lady who had owned a fabric store, but closed it, and would teach there every Wednesday.  I could not wait.  This started my 7-year trek into sponging up everything my teacher and mentor could teach me.

But I lacked one thing.  On my birthday, I asked for a Bernina, but was told by everyone it was too expensive, so I agreed, and would work on my mentor’s machines on Wednesdays when she was in town.

And Again My Aunt Enters
She arranged for me to have the first Bernina machine.  Today, I can not see this photo and not have sheer gratitude for what she did.  Immediately my sewing turned from happy hands at home, to professional quality.  To be honest, I amazed myself, and it always gave me a great thrill and sense of amazement to see my garment turn out exactly like the pattern envelope.  But pretty soon, that wasn’t enough.  I would bring the cover of a magazine to class and explain how I was going to do the garment in the photo – how I was going to draft the pattern, how I was going to cut it, and any other problems or techniques that I might use to complete the project.  Two weeks later I would bring it to her to critique.  My biggest criticism from her was that I took too much time with the handwork and finishing, but I didn’t care.  My work was immaculate and I loved it and loved doing it and loved making it better than what I could buy.

As time went on, our economy fell apart, and it was obvious that I couldn’t have children, so motherhood did not take up much of my time.  It was time for me to do something with my skills and most of all do something that I was passionate about so I started sewing and at first it was doing piecework for my mentor, but after that, I began to garner my own clientele and thus my design business was off and running.  When my aunt’s son was a lot older than me and had already gotten married, but he had a daughter, and I thought maybe I could do her wedding gown, but she found one she loved, and that was it.

Halley’s Wedding
Finally a couple of years ago, my cousin’s daughter had her only child, her daughter getting married and asked me to do the dress.  I couldn’t believe it.  Finally, I was going to get to pay back what had been given to me.

I was overjoyed to be able to do this dress.

But….(and there’s always a but), there was one more cousin in this generation that I really wanted – her cousin!

Then I heard that she had purchased a dress and didn’t need me.  If there’s one thing I’ve learned in doing weddings and debutantes for 40 years it’s that as good as I can make it, and knowing that I can and will do a better job than what a bride or deb can ever find in the store, if they have found something, I can’t match that.  If it’s perfect for them, I can’t match that and I know that.  I was a little crestfallen but knew it was for the better, when her mother calls and asked if I can add a few things – yesssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssssss!

Meg’s Wedding
So I get to have my dream after all – I get ALL of my aunt’s 3rd generation girls and get to make their dresses beyond spectacular!  This side of the family is the nicest group of people you could ever meet, and are delightful to work with, and the last girl of this generation is no exception.  Here are the results!

One of the many great things for me that made this a joy (aside from the promises kept), is that I knew the church she was to be married in.  It’s a lovely church with a long stellar history.  But amazingly enough for a town this small, it is a large church with a very vibrant congregation.  Meg’s dress was gorgeous and what she wanted, but it needed something more to match the proportion of the church, so we decided upon a great long veil – one that could be removed after the wedding so that she could move through the reception with ease.


Here you can see the result and the proportion matches very well.

And then, of course, there is this – I swear they weren’t taking pictures and we were in the process of arranging the dress because the last thing I do is photobomb the newlyweds  — or at least that’s Plan A!

Above all promises were kept with this wedding and I know my dear Aunt is looking down on her family with a very full heart  – the same full heart she shared with me.

  1. Oh dear Claire, this was so fantastic to read! You really summarized your life story so beautifully based on the impact of Marj’s support of your wonderful talent! You certainly created heirlooms for both Halley & Meg. We are grateful for your time, talent and willingness to create gorgeous gowns for their special & blessed events!

  2. Claire, we were so blessed to be the beneficiary of your enormous talent, but also blessed to just to watch you at work. I have never seen anything like it…truly…your mind, your passion, your creativity- it is all expressed in a joyous explosion of thread and fabric. It is a wonder to watch you at work! We cannot thank you enough for making our sweetie’s wedding dreams come true!

    • Awww shucks! That is very kind of you! I loved working with the family on this one!!!

  3. Claire, your story about persistence & generosity brings a happy tear to my eye. It is a joy & a privilege to be part of the sewing heritage, connecting us to history and to all the women who have gone before with needles in their hands. Joy to you from Nova Scotia!

  4. I found thia blog through a random feed of your post on Duchess of Cambridge. I love this post and you are fortunate to have found a mentor. Then I saw the Merc. And wait…. you know The Pioneer Woman?? I must investigate!

    • Well, Ree is what she shows on her blog and site. I know – sounds too good, but the truth is that she’s generous, hospitable, open and very generous. It shows in not only her products and books but when you go to the Merc and the Boarding House, the people are soooooo friendly and helpful even when you don’t think you need help – but not interfering. That comes from the top – when the top person is all those things, the next person down is, and she treats everyone that way, and on down the way to the very lowest person who deals with the public. Sounds like I’m just piling on, but she really is that way. The trip to see her and the Merc, Boarding House, Charlie’s Sweet Shop and P-Town Pizza which is really great pizza on the terrace overlooking main street.

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