Morgann McCoy Biz Column: A Return to Making
In many ways, sewing has become a lost art. A generation or two ago, a sewing machine was a household essential. It was common for women to make handmade garments, both for themselves and for their kids. Cotton feed sacks were made into dresses. Jackets tailored. Zippers fixed. Work pants patched. It seemed everyone could at least darn a sock, hem a skirt, or mend an armhole. Textiles were never wasted, but creatively upcycled into something functional for the family. There was a spirit of resourcefulness; a commitment to long-lasting items, a deep understanding of the hard work needed to sew clothes, and a joy that overflowed out of the process.
Creating your own clothing can feel like a way of the past. Home sewing is no longer the norm. In this often chaotic world fueled by online shopping and instant gratification, there is little room left for making. We have constant access to so many cheaply made clothes. We buy and buy and buy, without much thought given to the hands that made it. We are disconnected from the makers; therefore, disconnected from the human stories behind the clothes. Perhaps the most disheartening, we are missing out on the joy that comes from working with our hands.
As more people become aware of this gap between maker and wearer, a movement toward slow fashion has begun. There is a resurgence of mending, altering, and reusing textiles. There are more people interested in creating their own garments tailored to fit their bodies. More people learning to sew, knit, weave, crochet, quilt, and hand-stitch. More people slowing down and enjoying the process.
I like to call it a return to making.
Maybe you have been part of this change? From DIY workshops to online sewing communities to the rise of ethical fashion brands, more women are interested in sewing again. They are setting down their phones and picking up a pair of shears. They are dusting off the cobwebs on grandma’s sewing machine, trading screen time for creative time.
So. I’m wondering, how would your life change if you learned to sew this year? Or if you picked it up again?
Over the past few years, I have committed to sewing more of my own clothing, which sounds silly coming from a professional seamstress, but I have intentionally carved out the time. I have focused on making quality pieces that function well in my wardrobe.
On the practical side, sewing my own clothes has saved me money, made me money, and improved my skills. More importantly, it has inspired me to take care of the items I own, to be grateful for what I have, and to appreciate the time in my studio when my hands are busy at work, just as other women around the world are doing the same. A return to making has created a deeper connection to the people.
Have you dropped the phone in exchange for shears?
Have you joined the movement?
Tell me your ‘return to making’ story in the comments!
I have been a “maker” for most of my 61 years. First as a young girl making my dolls clothes, my clothes as a teenager then as a young wife. When I had children I made their cloths and decorated my home. All the while having the “simple dream” of sewing for a living. I am now living that dream by making quilts for others. I enjoy making custom memory t-shirt quilts using customers own t-shirts and other clothes to create a quilt that will bring them warmth and memories. I also make time to rummage thru the shelves of fabric in my “fabric” room to make quilts that will keep my creative juices flowing. I am planning to have groups of friends over to teach them to make so they can learn the joy of becoming a maker and hopefully they stop asking me to mend and alter and tackle those projects for themselves…and enjoy doing so.
Thank you for sharing, Lisa! Beautiful to see how sewing has been a blessing to you and those around you. I love that you are taking your skill and using it to encourage and teach others!
I have always been a maker of things. It is very important to me and a big part of what makes me, me.
Learned to sew when I was about 10. Worked at a fabric store when I was sixteen. Used my employee discount to buy a Bernina Record 730 in 1971. I just took it in for a tuneup so I can sew again.
Got a degree in art and like Wendy above, spent 37 years in the corporate world. While working, cooking was my creative outlet. We all had to eat, right? Might as well eat really good food.
Since retiring I have been painting, drawing, making silver jewelry. I am so very looking forward to sewing again soon!
I love that you still have your first sewing machine! I use my grandma’s Viking Husqvarna and it still hums along perfectly. Some seasons allow for more creative time than others, but I love that you were able to incorporate it into your busy schedule through cooking. What a great perspective and advice for others! Thanks for sharing!
I have found the article and all the comments interesting. They got me to thinking back on my 74 years of living. I made a pink dress in Home Ec. class when i was 14 but my mother was a very negative person so i did not sew again until my husband bought my first sewing machine in 1964. (When we married in ’63 i was still wearing the same clothes i had in 7th grade. I learned young to take good care of my clothes.) I have sewen now for 56 years and have always enjoyed the challenges and creativity it has stired in me. Finally being fully retired and not having to move anymore i now have a place to house all my sewing supplies, 6 sewing machines and craft items. I am so blessed, sewing and creating from scratch has helped to keep me focused and going forward through tough and difficult times. KEEP ON SEWING AND BEING CREATIVE!
YES! Thank you so much for sharing this, the good and the bad. I think many people are scared to try a creative outlet due to a negative experience they had in childhood from a parent or adult telling them their work was not good enough. I have heard many similar stories from friends. I appreciate you being honest about that and encouraging us to keep going! Awesome story!
I love that you have so much to create with and your mohters lack of inspiration and support didnt stop you from achieving your dreams. CHeers. ~Tes
What a lovely story. I have never completely quit sewing since Home Ec, but somewhere I lost my spark and my sewing turned into just another chore: PJ’s and jackets for winter, shorts for summer, and an occasional quilt. Through all of this I’ve worked. And now I’m freeee!
I have always had an active interest in dyeing, knitting, sewing and a few years ago I started taking embroidery classes at the SF School of Embroidery. With this new dimension, I can barely sleep. My journal is overflowing with cracking good ideas. Holy cow, I dabbling in pattern alteration. Look mom, it’s an old dog, learning new tricks. Good for you Morgann. Keep up the sewing.
And like Nancy, everything that leaves here, now looks better than anything that comes out of a shop.
This is so encouraging to hear! An overflowing journal is a beautiful thing. Thank you for sharing and happy sewing 🙂
When I was a child in the 70’s we made some of our own clothing. The larger women had to, or in my case women with a large bust and small waist…nothing off the rack fit. The price of a pair of belled jeans in those days (or a nice pair of lined wool slacks) was $100. Most people only owned 3-5 pairs of slacks. Blouses and sweaters ran about $50 at the outlets , so a normal amount to own was 5-7. We never had full closets, and my family was upper middle class. A good dress was $100-200. Remember, money was more valuable then so multiply times 5 to arrive at the cost today. But then cloth became more expensive and harder to find. Imports started coming in at the same time. By 1980 it was far more practical to buy off the rack and have pieces altered to fit. Now we are seeing a return to sewing because the quality of the imports is so low.
So interesting to hear your perspective about how fashion and sewing has changed over the years! I have always loved pattermaking and sewing because I’m not limited by the fit and styles offered in the stores. Thank you for touching on that and for sharing your story!
This is so interesting to me because I made a pledge to myself that this is my year to refine my sewing skills. My paternal grandmother began encouraging me to sew when I was a small child. She deserves the credit for my love of traditional handcraft. She had an enormous cupboard of fabric remnants and trims, stashed away for my choosing. She tutored me with love and kindness on her 1950’s Singer. Anyway, I am committing myself to sewing projects this year that I have previously been afraid to tackle. Thank you for this post!
Love to hear this, Dana! Appreciate you sharing. I learned to sew in a similar way.. my grandma and mom also had tons of fabric remnants stashed in the window seat. Now I have a couple bins of vintage fabrics that always keep me inspired 🙂
Although my childhood was spent doing embroidery with all the women in my family and hand sewing puppet style dolls I didn’t start making my own clothes until high school. Remember Home Ec? Okay, maybe you’re not old enough for that, but my Home Ec teacher declared, “nothing leaves this room until it looks like it came from Jones’ (the upscale store in KC, MO at the time).” I continued to sew my clothing (and much of my family’s) until fabric and patterns got too expensive for my budget. A gift of fabric from an a fabric horder’s estate a few years ago piqued my interest again. That, coupled with a diagnosis of breast cancer, has motivated me to dive in to the making again, this time with the standard that everything in my wardrobe is either linen or wool. I am loving life! **I should add that in the interim my making ventures were channeled into quilting, gardening, and canning the produce…so I never really left making entirely.
I love this, Nancy. Thank you so much for sharing part of your story. I’m too young to have experienced Home Ec., but I wish I would have m had the option. I have no doubt it would have been a favorite class. I’m so sorry to hear about your cancer diagnosis, but I hope you know that your story is encouraging others to keep creating!
I’ve rediscovered my love of sewing, and working with my hands, as you’ve mentioned in your article. My mom taught me how to sew when I was little and I made clothes until I graduated from college. Then life got in the way and I was busy with family, career, grad school whilst working full-time, etc. Now, as a retired business consultant (I was a fine-arts major in undergraduate school….yikes, conflicted? left-brain/right brain?), I am designing my own wardrobe……with absolutely no intention of sharing, blogging, selling, etc……just enjoying. I find every aspect of sewing to be rewarding, and with every project, I try to challenge myself to 1) figure out the most efficient use of fabric when laying out my pattern, and, 2) maybe hack something ready-made that’s ridiculously priced, or, 3) add a new skill/technique…..sewing is my ‘wearable Sudoku’!
Beautifully said, Wendy! I especially love that you are carving time to create without the pressure of sharing. To create simply for enjoyment.. I think we could all use more of that. I also love that you touched on the process of laying out your patterns to make the most of your fabric. It is easy to want to skip this step but I think it’s an important one and can be so satisfying! Thanks for sharing!