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.
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.
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!
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.
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