My passion is sewing – I’ve been sewing since I was a child. I remember quite clearly, sitting on my grandmother’s knee; as she pedaled that old treadle machine, she showed me how to guide the fabric under the needle and I learned to sew a straight seam. I can clearly hear my grandmother telling me to be very careful and NOT to get my fingers under the needle, as it would sew right through my finger! To this day, when I’m sewing, I hear that reminder in my head. Thank you, grandma!
I loved to spend time with my grandmother. She was a very kind and generous person, with all sorts of crafty talents. I believe I’ve inherited most of her talents. Grandma could embroider, knit, crochet, sew, cut hair, bake and cook amazing foods, and grow beautiful flowers!
When I was very young, grandma would spend time reading stories to my brother and myself when she looked after us while my parents would go shopping! Grandma would sit in her wooden rocking chair with one of us sitting on the left arm and the other on the right while she would hold the book and read to us and have discussions about the pictures. When dad would come to pick us up, both my brother and I would be hiding behind the heater in the living room. Dad would ask grandma where the kids were, and she would say “she didn’t know” or something like that. Dad and grandma would converse a bit, and finally, dad would say “okay kids, time to go home”! We were always sad to leave saying, “Awwwww, do we have to?”
Grandma made a bit of extra income by cutting hair for other people. Quite often, I’d be over at grandma’s so I would watch her cut hair and wonder if I could ever do that. I did take a class in cutting hair when I had young children and went on to cut my children’s hair when they were young. Grandma was the person who would give my mother a “Toni” – home permanent wave – and with whatever solution was left over, I’d get my hair done as well. If you have ever had a Toni, you will clearly remember the “smell”!
Another way grandma generated income, was by sewing for others. She would sew the bridesmaid’s dresses for numerous wedding parties. Some were sheer fabrics and others made of velvet – not easy to handle those types of fabrics, I have learned. I loved to see those gowns being sewn and was always amazed by how gorgeous they looked. Grandma also made my flower girl gowns – I was a flower girl twice when I was very young. I remember having to stand up on the table so grandma could get the hem marked properly. She made a headband adorned with tiny ribbon flowers and embellished the gown with tiny embroidered flowers on the bodice. Such wonderful memories.
One of the first things I learned was how to hand sew – I had several cardboard pictures which had holes the size for a shoe lace punched along the edge of the pictures. The kit came with yarn laces, and the object was to learn to “sew” in and out of the holes till the picture was outlined in the yarn. From that, I graduated to using a real needle and embroidery thread and grandma let me pick the color of thread that I wanted to use, and there were many to choose from. To this day, I still am attracted to all the many colors of thread and fabrics!
Back then flour sacks were taken apart, bleached, and hemmed to become dish towels. Grandma had a good selection of iron on designs to choose from. I would pick a design, grandma would iron it on the fabric, and then it was ready for embroidery. She taught me how to make tiny stitches, as well as lazy daisy stitch and knots; and how to begin and end each color of thread and then start the next color. Part of the learning process was to ensure that the back side was neat and tidy and practice does make perfect!
Grandma made me several matching pillow cases for my “hope chest”. At first, she would do the hand embroidery and then crochet a lacy border right onto the pillowcase fabric. In her later years, she crocheted the lace first, and then just hand stitched it to the pillowcase edge – enabling the lace to be removed and applied onto another pillowcase when the first wore out. I still have a set or two of pillowcases that I’ve never used and am saving to pass on to my granddaughters.
I remember one year when I was about 8 years old – the Sears and Eatons catalogs came out and I found a child’s sewing machine which I had on my Christmas wish list for Santa. Unbeknownst to me, my grandmother and my mother were both dealing on electric Singer sewing machines. Grandma asked me if I wanted her treadle machine. I said, “No!” and went on to tell grandma all about the sewing machine that Santa was going to bring me. At Christmas, I was thrilled with my little sewing machine, a hand crank model. How silly of me – those old treadle machines are still popular today!
You can imagine my surprise when I visited grandma and she had a beautiful electric machine which could stitch out a variety of fancy stitches, do a button hole automatically (when the button hole attachment was attached), and sew backward and forward. Shortly after, my mother got her electric machine (just not quite as fancy a model as grandma’s).
Between sewing on my own little machine, and practicing on grandma’s new machine, and then on my mother’s machine, my seams were getting better. My mother was expecting a baby, and mom ordered yards and yards of white flannelette and cut out diapers. Mom showed me how to sew a hem, and I was allowed to hem those diapers…….I think there was 3 dozen. Mom also cut out little gowns and jackets for the baby, some were pale yellow flannelette and some were pale green flannelette. It was at that point that I learned to sew a curved seam. I got a lot of practice with the gowns and jackets. The baby was a girl!
As I got older, grandma would teach me how to knit and crochet. With her help, I managed to complete matching sidewash sweaters for my fiance and myself. That was back in the late ‘60’s. Although I haven’t used those skills very often, I prefer to crochet rather than to knit. I haven’t perfected those skills but I did learn enough to be able to crochet a sweater for my son when he was a toddler, and I’ve done some simple blocks for potholders and baby blanket or two.
The hand sewing skills I learned from grandma gave me enough confidence to pursue petit point when I was a stay-at-home mom. One year I went all out and made a set of matching pictures for my mother and another matching set for my mother-in-law as Christmas gifts. I also started a set of three larger sized pictures for myself. Life got in the way, and while I finished the first, it took many years till the second picture was finished, and the third is still in progress. I’ve started many different crafts since the petit point, and do hope that I will get that third picture finished so that the set can be framed. That petit point picture is on my list of UFO’s (unfinished objects).
When I was in Grade 9, I chose Home Economics as one of my subjects. It was there that I got my own sewing supplies. We had a list of items that we needed for class. I still have the little scissors that we were required to have in our sewing kit, as well as the first project that I made – an apron! Grandma made me a pale yellow knitted pincushion, and that is the only pin cushion that I’ve ever used. It’s a constant reminder to me of grandma and how much I’ve learned from her.
Sew Perfect Stitches