Monday, October 27, 2008

Interview with my sewing self

Mrs. Noodles, I understand you've been sewing for awhile.

That's right. My first sewing machine was battery operated, a Christmas gift when I was in second grade. It came with a little instruction manual that said on the cover, "Read this first." Because I then was of the mistaken notion that I had to read every page of any instruction manual, and because I always got bogged down on about page three of the tiny type in the booklet, I never did get to use that cute little sewing machine.

A few years later I started doing some hand sewing for my dolls, simple skirts and capes for my Barbies. I also loved to create sock dolls, sew on strips of colorful knit fabric for hair, and cloth them in hastily put-together scraps for dresses, skirts, pants, etc.

When did you start sewing for yourself? Was learning to sew difficult for you?

The first thing I made was a gathered blue gingham skirt when I was 12. Bought the pattern and fabric, pinned on the pattern pieces, cut it out, followed the instructions. This was the mid 60s, so imagine, the Beatles have come to town (I saw them from a distance), Twiggy has made the mini-skirt popular, and here I am, proudly wearing my homemade gathered gingham skirt. It came to the middle of my knees, of course, because that was the rule at my school.

My mother was absolutely the best sewing instructor. She said, "Read the first sentence of the instructions. Do what it says. Then read the next sentence and do what that says. If you need help, let me know, and I'll show you what to do." So that's what I did, and that's how I've come to believe that I can do anything, as long as there are good instructions.

Didn't you ever get frustrated with sewing while you were learning?

But of course! I remember having the urge, especially early on, to rip up the fabric and throw the sewing machine out the window. I hated it when something went wrong and I had to rip it out and do it over. Especially when the same thing went wrong several times in a row. But I loved the mystery of how my project might turn out, and the feeling of accomplishment when I was finished.

Did clothing styles have influence on your future sewing projects?

Absolutely. Because I was 5'9" at age 14 and weighed 110 lbs, the combination of the skirt-to-the-knee rule, my skinny frame fitting only items that were extremely short, and the mini-skirt being in style, I ended up needing to sew for myself. After the gingham skirt, I branched out into jumpers, A-line skirts, and dresses that were a little more in touch with times. Looking back, some of them weren't too bad. I tended to like bright colors and remember one of the guys in high school calling me "Jungle girl" because of a bright jungle print dress I wore.

What was your first sewing machine?

My parents bought me a little black Singer Featherweight when I was 14. It's a valuable part of my sewing "staff" staff to this day. It's a great little workhorse.

Do you still sew for yourself?

I haven't made my own clothing for about 20 years. There used to be three reasons for me to sew: 1) Save money, 2) Save time (I could sew faster than I could find something I liked and that fit me), and 3) Wear something unique. During the past couple of decades, fabric became more and more expensive, while the cost of clothing did not increase that much. It became more economical to buy ready-made, and once I started teaching school and had much less time, I gradually stopped sewing for myself.

I understand that you are now a quilter.

The first quilted item I made was in 1974, when I made leaf-shaped hot pads as a gift for my mother. I watched other people quilting during those years, cutting out dozens of pieces of fabric with little cardboard templates. It didn't look like fun.

Then the rotary cutter came along. Now this was more like it! I loved the tools. I made three Amish shadows wall quilts that I thought were lovely at the time, about 1990. Now I think they would make a good blanky for someone's dog.

Then I finally finished college, became a special ed teacher, and didn't do much sewing until 2005. Some dear friends, who knew I needed to occupy myself after my husband's unexpected death, encouraged me to go with them to a quilting class where we learned how to do paper piecing. We all made table runners, and they all look great.

How many quilts have you made since then?

I would need to count, but at least a couple dozen. Many for beds, more for the walls. I love making one-of-a-kind quilts, so though I appreciate traditional styles, I love contemporary quilts -- at least some of them. Some are esthetically hideous in my opinion, but those are usually making some kind of statement and I can appreciate them on that basis; there are many more that are so intriguing and inspiring that I can't wait to get started on my next idea -- once I get the four I'm currently working on completed.

Do you think you'll go back to making clothing?

Quilting is really my passion right now, and I don't plan to stop. But I am also interested in making some of own clothes again. I just came back from a shopping trip, and it appears the pendulum has swung back to where it again makes sense to make your own clothing. The last time I shopped for a white shirt, the average price was around $35. I don't think that was more than a couple of years ago. Now it's $65. I looked at just about every white blouse/shirt in the mall today, and the only one I really liked was $78, the rest being either too short in the body and/or sleeves or too transparent. I looked at the $78 shirt and said, "I could make that myself," so I stopped at the fabric store and spent $5.00 on fabric (sale! sale! sale!) and am ready to make the attempt.

What I really want is a dress form. I found out how you can make one: Make your own dress form. All I need is a good friend to tape me up!

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