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Sewing, Friendship and History

Sewing means more to me than the actual garment that is produced.   Clearly, it is less expensive, faster and easier to walk into a store and purchase a t-shirt or skirt than it is to purchase the fabric, prewash it, choose  a pattern, trace it, cut it out, pin it, sew it, finish the seams etc. etc.  The history and legacy of sewing is what gets me.  Spending time finding the perfect fabric and pattern for my little girls, combining special buttons and notions to make a one of a kind dress made with my own hands rather than mass produced in a factory and sold at the mall.  This means something to me.  My favorite thing to do is to comb thrift shops and antique markets for vintage sewing materials.  Bakelite buttons, silver thimbles, wooden spools of thread, delicate and decorative scissors.

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I have amassed quite the collection of these throughout the past few years.  The connection to women in the past through their sewing seems so personal to me.  Going through an old sewing box provides a great picture of it’s owner…the amateur sewer with mending needles, utilitarian buttons, and plain scissors to the sewing pro with fancy scrolled scissors, mother of pearl buttons, thimbles and trims.

scissors, buttons, needle guide and calendar 1948 from Montreal
scissors, buttons, needle guide and calendar 1948 from Montreal

I like to imagine who owned the materials, and what they used them for.  Sewing had a different meaning back then, it was certainly more mainstream and popular than it is today.  The decorative packaging and labels give it such an elegance that is missing today.

I like to think I am carrying on a small piece of history when I use these materials, especially when I share this with my girls.  Luckily they love it as much as I do, nothing holds their interest quite as long as rummaging through a pile of old fancy buttons!

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Unfortunately, I am the only one in my family that sews/knits or crochets.  This interest is not something that was passed on.  I did not grow up watching or learning from my Mom or Nana (grandma).  No handmade clothes for me as a kid!  All of my vintage sewing notions have been purchased, not passed down or inherited.  Growing up my sister and I spent a great deal at Nana’s house.  My mother was diagnosed with MS when I was 5, and for much of my life my Nana lived next door.  My mother being the second oldest of 7 children, many of my aunts and uncles were still living at home when I was a child and the house was always full of family (albeit pretty dysfunctional at best!!).  Anyways, my Nana has to be the most eccentric person I know.  Quite the character for sure.  Growing up I never saw her go anywhere, or have any friends come over.  I did however always hear about “Jackie”…her best friend.  Jackie passed away at some point when I was a child, and although that was quite a while ago her name is still mentioned by Nana.  Many of her belongings are now stashed away at my Nana’s house, along with a great deal of junk/antiques/old toys/crap.  With Nana now in her 80’s, she has been clearing out some of this stuff and while most of it is unusable, there is the occasional gem.

This is where sewing comes in…there is a connection to this post I swear!   When Nana told me she had some fabric and sewing stuff of Jackie’s for me I was a bit apprehensive.  The state of the fabric I will not get into- yikes.  But the sewing box is what I had been looking for.

DSCN3879 The closest thing to an inherited sewing history in my own family, it was a link to my Nana’s best friend.  The only woman she ever spoke of, a bond that must have been so strong it still held on 30 years after she passed.  Thinking of my Nana holding on to this sewing box, with its random buttons, scissors and old rusty pins makes me smile. DSCN3876 Will someone cherish mine after I am gone, or will it be relegated to the thrift shop like so many I have combed over in the past?  For now, I will enjoy going through this with the girls and hope that they find an interest in it as well so that this history lives on.  That crazy crochet doll face, however, is welcome to stay in the past!

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