For a little about me, I have to start where I grew up which was in a rural ranching town in the Southern Plains. We did all the things small-town America was all about in AmericanGraffiti! We “did the drag” which was a plotted tour through the downtown of our little community, went to the local hangout to get a soda and burger, and in the parking lot of the local burger joint, socialized our way through high school. It was quintessentially small-town America, and it was truly an idyllic place to grow up. It was small enough that you couldn’t get away with any mischief and yet close enough to the big cities so you could travel to see all the big music acts of the day. It was also unusual in that there was a preponderance of highly-educated families living in the town, so most of the kids were going to go to college, including most of
the minorities. And we girls were most often in Home Ec, while the guys were most often in Shop. I never thought of it as being“in” or “out”, it simply was.
So, at an early age, when I developed a keenness for sewing for my Barbie, making patterns and getting scraps of some delicious-looking stuff at the local five-and-dime store(forerunning of Walmart), I realized that I needed further instruction. My family, although packed with artists, didn’t really have any sewing experts or even sewing novices, so I figured the best place would be the Home Ec department. My first day in class, I was so excited, but when I saw what was laid out in front of me – a bib with some ribbon – I was like:
I made some snide and probably most inappropriate comment like– isn’t this teaching the modern woman she’s only a receptacle for babies or some such remark, and was promptly escorted to the principle’s office where I begin to think, maybe I shudda kept my mouth shut! Oh well! Too late now.
My mother negotiated a deal with the school (there was only one high school which meant I couldn’t transfer to another school), that I could stay in school, as long
as I never dawned the door of the Home Ec department ever again. I was elated that I would be able to attend high school, but crushed that I couldn’t learn how to sew.
This was only the beginning of my battle to learn how to sew during the heyday of the women’s liberation movement. And don’t get me wrong, I appreciate that movement, and it brought a lot of freedom to women who wanted to do something other than what women were doing in the ’40s and ’50s in America. My issue was that those activities that ’40s and ’50s women were doing, was what a really chose to be doing – but unfortunately, these classes, departments, and instructors were being phased out in educational institutions throughout the country.
As my little home town begin to dwindle in population, so did the quality of education, and my parents decided that my junior and senior year in high school, I should go away to school. As quickly as that I was in the middle of the Deep South in the fall of 1965 a few hundred miles south of where civil rights workers had been missing the summer before. The cultural changes were phenomenal, as families throughout the South were fleeing the public school systems that were forced into integration into private schools. Competition and enrollment were way up. But this school excelled in teaching preparatory classes for colleges and universities, not really too much on in the life skills department, so there was no sewing at all – nada. Plus, by this time sewing was well on it’s way to being relegated as an antiquated and withering study, at best.
But being the creative spirit that I was, I decided to do something and started studying art. As I went into college, I furthered into my art training, as Home Ec classes and departments were closing. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this was really a godsend. I had a great background in art as well as art history and fundamentals of art appreciation. All this gave me an excellent background to bring to sewing.
About me – Part Deux – Fast-forward about a decade, after working in the big city, I’m married, no children (turns out that was never in the cards for me), a new home, and setting up home keeping was fairly straight-forward and easy for me. Cleaning our little home was simple and frankly, I had way too much time on my hands, and thanks to the women’s movement, I could get a job on the side, more for the sake of keeping my sanity as much as anything else. I had always worked all my life, and sitting at home, filing my nails and waiting to get pregnant, really wasn’t my cup of tea. I started working at the local art museum and was having a blast. I was part-time, which suited me fine, the environment was familiar and really a lot of fun. But then one day I saw an ad in the local paper and it looked interesting.
A lady, who had sewn for years for the wealthy, socially-prominent ladies of the city, was teaching sewing classes. Well, I’d taken some classes before, but they were very basic and really didn’t teach me much more than what I already knew. This lady sounded promising, and I decided to give her a try. I came to class completely ready with a shirt pattern, collar band, collar and set-in sleeve with a placket in the front. The classes were 8 weeks long, and in 3 weeks I finished the shirt. Friends would ask where I purchased the shirt, I remarked that I had made it, and they were impressed. After I finished the shirt, I asked my teacher if she would teach me how to make a coat – she said sure, and off we went. I ended up with a great coat made from some magnificently chic (at the time) fabric in a Ralph Lauren plaid.
At last, I had found someone to teach me sewing. But it went further than that. She taught me how to design as well. I couldn’t get enough of her knowledge and soaked up as much as I could for as long as I could. I used to remark that she had sewn from shoulder pads of the ’40s to the shoulder pads of the ’80s all the while learning and using the techniques, styles, and models from all the styles in between. Additionally, I could afford to stop working so that I could devote all my time toward the study of sewing. My teacher was gracious, generous and above all patient with my hard-headedness and I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher and mentor. I think more than me she knew I would end up in the business and taught me time-focused thinking about how to solve problems with sewing. Even though I probably knew more than I thought I did, she was patient and always answered my questions and commented on my designs, without commenting on the veracity of the design. By that I mean, she would keep her instruction focused on the mechanics of realizing a design, not necessarily on whether the design was worthy. Some of my things were frankly pretty crazy, but she let me create them so that I could learn why or why not to do something.
As life would have it, being in the middle of the Energy Belt of the US, the boom that we were experiencing lead to a bust. This is pretty much the way the Energy Belt goes. One day it’s flush, the next you’re broke. And when that time hit, it was time for me to go back to work. So there was this 9-to-5 gig, where I would probably end up in a rehab center, or I could do what I had always wanted – be a designer.
I had no idea how much fun being broke could be. At a time when businesses were falling like flies after a freeze, mine was surviving. I attribute this mostly to the fact that I was loving what I was doing. A client would come by my home and be would talk about this or that design and I would get so excited. Then they would leave and I would think, “How in the world do I think I’m going to do that?” Suddenly I would enter the threshold of my studio, and each gown was created and
worked out just like the drawing of the gowns that I did.
Later, looking back, I was doing exactly what most designers do – work
through the challenges and issues in creating a new design. This is what artists do, and without the art background I had in school, I couldn’t have made nearly as logical and responsible decisions about design as I did. This was my metier and couldn’t have asked for a better career.
About 8 years ago, I asked the local Bernina dealer if I could teach sewing at his store. He had me make up a proposal, accepted it, and I started teaching. I began to realize that there was a new market out there for students. Once past the women’s lib movement of the mid-century, people were coming back to sewing and discovering the empowerment and joy of creating not only a custom-designed garment, as well as a garment that was comfortable and flattering, but also a garment that is healthier for the planet and removing a contribution to the slave market of third-world countries.
For me, I still love sewing for the simple high of seeing something I’ve envisioned come to a realization, and the power it gives me to express myself in the very exact way I want. Here, and in the Resource Center (link located on the menu bar above), and on my weekly freebie guide, I share that love and passion I have to teach you how to create a flattering, fashionable fit for your shape, size, and style.
You can contact me by email: support at sewingartistry dot com – for the bots that are swirling around.
And here’s all my “social” info and I post a lot on all of these and it’s not all the same!