Is Home Sewing for You?
“HOMEMADE.” We use that term with approval when speaking of pies or baked bread. But applied to home sewing it has not always had the same effect.
Thus a few years ago a girl was inclined to hide the fact that her clothes were homemade lest her friends think her too poor to buy ready-made garments. But times have changed. Today garments made at home are worn with pleasure, and the home sewer takes pride in her workmanship. It was similar before the modern clothing industry had developed.
The sewing machine was introduced around the middle of the last century; prior to that all clothes were hand sewn. Most clothes were made at home by the women of the family. Relatively few persons could afford the hand-sewn clothing produced by professional tailors.
But with the advent of the sewing machine a demand for ready-made garments grew. For some time, though, homemade clothes continued to be considered the best-made clothes. The term “store clothes” carried the connotation of being cheap and lacking in style. Very elderly citizens may still remember that. But as the quality of ready-made clothes improved, practically everyone began wearing them, and home sewing lost appeal.
Revival of Home Sewing
In recent years, however, there has been a return in a big way to home sewing. More than 300 million homemade garments a year are turned out in the United States alone! This has resulted in the phenomenal growth of the home-sewing industry. In 1969 the sale of patterns, fabric and accessories leaped to $3,000,000,000 up from $1,800,000,000 just three years before! And the growth is continuing.
The number of home sewers in the United States has swelled to nearly 50 million. Younger women in particular are learning the art. Surveys show that six out of seven teen-age girls now sew, and that the average age of the home sewer has dropped in the past few years from forty-seven to twenty-three.
Today a woman who sees a garment in a store can often find just the pattern and fabric to duplicate it at home. Patterns are available to make almost any type of garment, and so are fabrics. Fabric stores in the United States increased in number from 2,300 in 1967 to 12,000 last year.
But why this remarkable revival of home sewing?
One of the most attractive features of home sewing is the savings that can be realized. It is claimed that, due to what she saves, the home sewer may earn $10 an hour! This may seem an exaggeration. But when quality merchandise is priced in stores these days, one can see how such savings are possible.
A Washington, D.C., secretary, for example, priced a mohair suit in a dress shop at $200. She was able to duplicate the suit at an expense in materials of just $50. Savings on making drapes and slip-covers can be even more. It is in sewing major items that the greatest savings are realized.
On the average, home sewers make clothes for 50 to 60 percent below what they would pay for them ready-made. And quality, which is sadly lacking in many of today’s ready-made goods, can be built in to garments and household items sewn at home. The declining quality of retail clothing is itself good reason for knowing how to sew. As a young Cicero, Illinois, woman noted: “You have to be able to sew just to repair what you buy ready-made.”
Also, home sewing can provide a truly satisfying outlet for one’s creative ability and personal taste. Many women find pleasure and a sense of accomplishment in sewing. One woman said: “I think we need to return to a more primitive way of doing things. When you‘re sewing or weaving, those are good, quiet times.”
Another appealing feature of home sewing is the originality that can be achieved. Fabric, design and trim can all be chosen to suit the individual and her personality. At times Christian women, who desire to “adorn themselves in well-arranged dress, with modesty and soundness of mind,” have difficulty in finding ready-made clothes that are modest. (1 Tim. 2:9) Knowing how to sew has been a benefit to them.
The home sewer also can design her clothes to highlight her best features and minimize her figure faults. And by sewing the garment herself she can obtain a perfect fit, which to some is the most attractive feature of home sewing. One young woman, whose father owns several dress shops and who could get all her clothes free, prefers to sew her own because of the better fit she can achieve.
So if the rising cost of clothes and their sinking quality concern you, and you have difficulty in buying clothes that fit well and that reflect you and your personality the way you want, home sewing may be for you. But before proceeding, there are other factors to consider.
Investments and Considerations
Home sewing will require certain investments on your part. Any sewing project will take time, and time is often a scarce commodity in our busy lives. Also, you may find that to produce quality clothing will take more effort than you expected, especially as you are learning. Are you willing to follow through on all the details involved in constructing a garment until it is satisfactorily completed?
Then there is investment in equipment to consider. Most equipment needed, such as needles, thread, pins, shears, pincushion, thimble, tape measure, and so forth, are not expensive. But if you do not own a sewing machine, the purchase of a fine, modern one can be a major expense. However, a simpler machine, perhaps even a treadle-operated one, can serve very well, and one of these can be obtained for much less.
If you are perhaps thinking about making clothes without a sewing machine, it will be much more time consuming. The machine is invaluable to the sewer, as evidenced by what happened in the 1830’s when the French inventor Barthélemy Thimonnier put into operation the first sewing machines. An angry mob of tailors wrecked them all and threatened his life because of fear of losing their livelihood.
The first sewing machines were powered by turning a hand crank, and in some places these early types are still used. The treadle-operated machine was an improvement, since it allows the sewer to use both hands to guide the garment being worked on. Practically all machines now sold in the United States are electric powered. To give some idea of the value of modern sewing equipment: A pair of trousers that took some eighteen hours to sew by hand in 1857 can be turned out in a modern factory in only twenty minutes! A sewing machine is indeed a valuable aid.
Another consideration for a married woman is how her husband feels about her sewing at home. He may well be delighted, being glad for the savings it can mean in the family clothes budget. But some husbands may feel that their wife’s time can be better spent with other matters. Or it may be that he merely objects to having his wife involved with sewing when he is at home in the evening. This is something it is well to discuss together.
Can You Learn?
You may be wondering: How difficult is sewing? How much time and effort are required to learn?
Really, it is not very difficult. It is a skill that can be learned by any willing student. This is particularly true if sewing is approached as a hobby, as something to be enjoyed.
Sewing classes are offered by many sewing equipment manufacturers, but while these may be useful they are not necessary. There are many fine sewing books, filled with illustrations and step-by-step instructions for beginners. These can usually be obtained by a visit to a library. Also, there may be members of your own family or close friends who would be pleased to share their sewing knowledge with you. Surely every mother who knows how to sew will want to teach her daughter this valuable skill.
Patience is a paramount requirement in learning to sew. Be prepared to follow the instructions carefully. Take one step at a time, and do it right. Each success will increase your confidence. Sometimes the person sewing for the first time does even a better job than an experienced sewer simply because she is more apt to follow the instructions given. That even a person without previous experience can sew is illustrated by a New York father who is a carpenter by trade.
One evening he decided to work on a robe that his wife had left unfinished before retiring. Following the pattern instructions, he completed the robe and in the morning presented it to his surprised wife. He noted that sewing is similar to carpentry—a sewer follows a pattern, while a carpenter follows a blueprint. And it is true, sewing is largely a matter of following instructions closely. The operation of the sewing machine itself is quite simple to master.
Suppose that you decide to try your hand at home sewing, where do you begin?
Suggestions for a Beginner
If you have your sewing equipment ready, the first step will probably be to choose a pattern. A good rule here is: Avoid anything that is extreme in design. Choose a style based upon something that you like in your present wardrobe. No pattern should be expected to fit you perfectly, so choose the size that fits you best across the shoulders and upper chest area. Other parts of the pattern can be adjusted more easily.
Only after you have selected your pattern should you select your fabric. The great variety of fabrics available today allows the home sewer to choose material that is both easy to work with and easy to care for once the garment is finished. Since the time that you will spend making a garment will be about the same regardless of the quality of the material, why not make your effort worth more by using good-quality material?
You may hesitate to try to make your own household items, but when you consider the simplicity of such sewing and the savings realized, it will encourage you to try. Draperies and curtains can be constructed with simple straight seams that the home sewer will find she can master with relative ease.
Also, sheeting material can often be purchased for much less than can finished bed sheets. These can be cut to size for your beds, hemmed at both ends and put right to use. But be sure to allow for 10 percent shrinkage if the material is cotton. Pillowcase tubing, too, can be purchased. Cut it to fit your pillows; seam it at one end and hem it at the other.
Remember, an important key to success is to approach with confidence whatever sewing project you undertake.
Mending and Alterations
When clothes are damaged or need alteration, a lot of money can be saved when repairs are made at home. A good suggestion is, while you are ironing or folding garments, set aside those that need repairing. Also, if you see that an item such as a suit jacket or coat needs a repair or alteration, jot this down on a note pad that you keep with your other mending.
Hand mending can be cared for when the family is together, watching TV perhaps. In darning socks, a light bulb can be stuffed into the sock to hold it in shape while you darn. Invite a young daughter to lend a hand. Show her how to sew on buttons and fasten the thread so it will not come out.
Some of the new sewing machines have built-in features for mending that allow you to move your material freely under the needle as you mend, thus stitching together tears and rips. Even without this feature you can mend by machine by slightly lifting the presser-foot lever with one hand while moving the material back and forth under the needle with the other hand.
Some items tend to wear out in one place first. For example, bed sheets generally wear thin in the center. When you notice this, tear the sheet down the center lengthwise. Then seam the strong outside edges together, so the least worn part of the sheet now is in the center. Then hem the outside edges, which once were at the worn center of the sheet.
If the pants of your husband’s favorite suit become thin in the seat, you can take a piece of similar material and put it inside the pants and darn it over the thin area. The suit-coat jacket will likely cover over the repaired area so that it will not be noticed.
Many women long for a quieter, less-hurried life when they will be able to spend more time sewing at home and caring for similar needs of their families. Even the Bible notes, regarding the capable wife: “She has sought wool and linen, and she works at whatever is the delight of her hands. Her hands she has thrust out to the distaff, and her own hands take hold of the spindle.” (Prov. 31:13, 19) So if not now, then sometime in the future you may well decide that home sewing is for you.