I’ve been doing a lot of sewing lately. It’s just occurred to me that I’ve been a sewist - the modern, alternative term for seamstress - for almost fifty years. I’m as gobsmacked as you are! My fifty-fifth birthday is looming on the horizon, and I can definitely remember doing some sewing in Infants’ class when I was five. I had to help a boy called Nicholas because I’d finished my little project (I can’t remember what it was but I know that it was green) but he was struggling with his. I think I was meant to have been flattered by the responsibility but I was cross because I wanted to go and play in the sandbox!
I did a lot of sewing when I was young. Mum was a fabulous sewist and she taught me and my sister everything she knew. We thus both had a huge head start when it came to doing sewing at school. Back in the 1960s everyone did sewing at primary school, boys as well as girls. We all did cross-stitch tablemats and bookmarks. I think perhaps the boys carried on cross-stitching but we girls moved on to make skirts and headscarfs, all hand sewn. We didn’t get to use sewing machines until secondary school, but I’d been using Mum’s Singer since way before then. The difference was that the ones at school had treadles. There was even an electric one. I never used it though. I had the horrors about it running away with me. I preferred to stay in control by turning the handle on a manual machine.
We made ponchos and aprons, but I tended to do most of the sewing at home anyway as there weren’t that many machines to be shared between thirty-two girls. Mum was also rather dismissive of what the domestic science teacher told us, for example tacking a seam before sewing it. This made for very slow going. Also, if you tacked along the seam allowance, it was a nightmare to remove all the tacking stitches once you sewed over them with a machine. Mum’s way was to put a row of pins in along where the seam was going to be, and that’s what I’ve done all these years. You sew along this, lining up the next pin with the needle by eye, and learning to quickly whip the pin out when you reach it. If you don’t, you can break the needle!
It was to be many years before I finally got an electric machine. This was the New Home machine I bought when I was expecting Benj. I was intending to make everything for him - from bedding and clothes, to curtains for the nursery and toys - and I did. I’d worn my ancient Singer manual machine into the ground through constant use, making many clothes including my wedding dress and the bridesmaids’ dresses, and soft furnishings for two houses. Over the next nineteen years I must have sewed many, many hundreds of kilometres of seams, making clothes for my growing family, sizewise and heightwise. It was a splendid machine and I was heartbroken when it finally gave up the ghost.
I replaced the New Home with a Singer, thinking I was upgrading, but this was a very disappointing, plasticky version of a sewing machine. We never did get on. The tension was always wrong and it got harder and harder to use, so at Chris’s encouragement a couple of years ago I replaced it with an awesome Janome Sewist 525. I’d become addicted to the annual Great British Sewing Bee on TV - which has inexplicably been discontinued and I’m bereft - and they used Janomes on that to create spectacular articles. My machine is an absolute delight and I’ve become very adventurous. I sew fabrics of all thicknesses, and with the special button foot I’m no longer terrified of doing buttonholes! I’m even almost nearly good at them.
I love sewing. It’s creative and relaxing, and as with many crafts has been officially proved to be good for your health. It improves your hand-eye co-ordination and your stereoscopic vision, and lowers your heart rate and stress. It allows you to create a unique wardrobe of clothes for yourself and the family, and make useful and decorative items for the house or as gifts. It’s a fabulous pastime.
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