Sewing a stylish wardrobe — #AtoZChallenge2023

S is for Sewing a stylish wardrobe. Nineteen of 26 posts in the April 2023 Blogging From #AtoZChallenge. Theme: Endwell: My High School Years — adding my story to the family history mix. Please join me on the journey.

Having a stylish wardrobe was important to me as a teen – but how to manage it when my parents were frugal budgeters with five children they wanted to send to college?

Buying full retail was out of the question, and knockoff outfits from our local Philadelphia Sales and other budget stores had their style limitations.

Some of my friends had mothers or grandmothers who sewed – and one night at the dinner table, just to make conversation, I casually mentioned that my friend up the street had a lovely new dress that was sewn for her.

My mom Peg, who was relaunching her teaching career, gave me a glazed look. “Well, if you think I am going to sew outfits for you, think again,” she declared – which I took as a challenge.

“Fine, I’ll learn to sew and make them myself!” I retorted.

Mod granny dress pattern (1960s). I bought my first sewing pattern at Burt’s department store in Endicott — along with several yards of plum-colored paisley fabric –- to make a mod style granny dress with long sleeves, a fitted body, and poufs at the wrists and neckline.

Learning to sew

That weekend I bought my first sewing pattern at Burt’s department store in Endicott — along with several yards of plum-colored paisley fabric — to make a mod style granny dress with long sleeves, a fitted body, and poufs at the wrists and neckline. The pattern also featured darts at the elbows and a zipper up the back. Yikes! But I was determined.

Folding out the instructions, I followed along step by step, learning as I went — and at a fraction of the cost of retail. Never mind that I messed up the layout and cut out two left sleeves — the error didn’t show on the final product, and I proudly wore my creation to school the following week. After that, I was hooked.

Eventually, my go-to design was an A-line dress pattern that could be sewn either sleeveless or with sleeves, boat necked or V-necked. For the summer, I sewed a series of colorful cotton dresses. For winter, I made a fully lined V-neck white wool jumper. I became adept at installing zippers and could easily whip up a new (and unique) outfit over the weekend.

Simplicity A-line dress pattern (1960s). my go-to design was an A-line dress pattern that could be sewn sleeveless or with sleeves, boat necked or V-necked. And check out the pattern price!

Sewing at school in Home Ec

“You’re spending too much time indoors at that sewing machine,” my mom would complain, as I set up shop on Saturdays in the family dining room. Perhaps she had a point – I needed a more efficient sewing operation. That’s when I decided to sign up for a Home Economics class senior year so I could sew at school!

Home Ec was an unusual course – trapped in the middle during an era when some women were still full-time homemakers while others, in growing numbers, were entering the workforce. I remember learning some relatively useless stuff, like cooking scrambled eggs in a double boiler (didn’t folks have frying pans?) or making mountains of toast using a stove’s broiler rack (didn’t folks have toasters?).

But learning these dubious skills was a small price to pay for access to the school’s sewing machines — allowing me to whip up lovely-yet-low-cost outfits on school time, thus freeing up my weekends!

One of my A-line creations (1968). For winter, I made a fully lined V-neck white wool jumper — which I am wearing (above left) at my 18th Birthday Surprise party . Photo by Norman Charboneau

Proud of my seamstress skills

For my official Home Ec project, I made an empire-waist A-line dress of dreamy aqua flowered chiffon over a taffeta lining with short, puffed sleeves — which I packed off for college when the time came. Amazingly, one of my male classmates even nominated me for Best Dressed in our senior class contest based on my fashionable, home-sewn wardrobe.

But the outfit I was most proud of (which will appear in my Reflections post) was a complicated dark blue, three piece, fully lined, double-breasted suit (jacket, skirt and slacks) that I wore throughout senior year – a wearable testament to my self-taught skills as a seamstress and a measure of how far I’d come from that first mod granny dress with its two left sleeves!

Up next, T is for Tribute to Jane LaTour: 9th Blogiversary, about my late friend and colleague — and a book author — who was tremendously supportive when I started Molly’s Canopy in 2014.

Meanwhile, please visit my fellow bloggers over at Sepia Saturday.

© 2023 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

16 thoughts on “Sewing a stylish wardrobe — #AtoZChallenge2023”

  1. All the girls took Home Ec for two years in Junior High with a section on sewing both years. I took that experience and some instruction from both my mother and grandmother and made both of prom dresses at a fraction of the cost that other girls spent on theirs. I was very proud of that feat.

    I never got good enough to tackle a suit. That’s impressive!

  2. My mum was a very good seamstress and made a lot of my clothes back in my childhood and teens. Myself, I was never very good with the sewing machine… In ‘junior high school’ I was relieved to be able to choose woodwork classes rather than sewing.

    1. Good for you! I learned woodworking at home from my dad and my maternal grandfather, and still have a toolbox with some of my grandfather’s tools. In fact, I helped my dad with building the basement rec room where I’m sitting in the above photo 🙂

  3. Between my Grandma Louise & my Mom, I had some very nice clothes in school & for special occasions, but at some point in high school I began wanting more than just the basics, so asked Mom to teach me how to sew & from then on, I made most of my own clothes. I’m pretty sure the second pattern you showed was one I made several dresses from. When my own children came along, I made clothing for them. And when my daughters were old enough, I taught them how to sew, too. It’s a very handy talent to have for sure!

    1. I believe many women of our generation sewed from patterns when they were younger. That A-line pattern was a classic. I continued to make clothing until I was in my 30s and ready-to-wear became more affordable. Then I turned my sewing skills to home decorating (pillow covers, curtains, etc.) — and, of course, masks during Covid! You’re right, a handy skill to have.

  4. I still have shirts that my mother made for me as part of a costume for my early music group. I think she followed similar Simplicity patterns. They have Nehru collars and blousey sleeves that are more like 1968 than 1568 fashion. She was a pretty good seamstress who learned from her mother who had a real talent for making clothing. Though most of my creative work is with wood, I do have a sewing machine that I use to repair clothing or upholstery.

    But you have not answered the question than I’m sure other readers are wondering about. Why are you holding a pipe? Maybe that’s filed under a different letter ;—)

  5. You had the drive and also the talent. My sewing career was short – I managed to sew a skirt (in 8th grade Home Ec) and that is about it. I never got the hang of it. I remember those Simplicity patterns, too. In the early 1980’s I worked with a woman who loved to sew and she (for money) made me a couple of work outfits. I still have a flannel shirt she made for me, which I doubt fits me any more.

    1. I’ll admit, the directions were a challenge — and I can’t tell you how many zippers I had to tear out and start over before I learned to install one easily. But I was determined to be well dressed on a budget, and sewing was the only way.

  6. I also had classmates with mother’s that sewed their fantastic outfits. And I also sewed my own clothes as my mother was also a teacher. I must say though that you were so much more ambitious than I was! I was very satisfied with the basics 🙂
    I learned how to sew in school sewing classes, starting with a gathered skirt and moving on to patterns.

    1. Great that you also learned to sew! My most ambitious project was the lined suit. Otherwise, I was happy to stick to Jiffy patterns for projects that could be completed quickly.

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