A Sewing Interview (Part II)

As soon as I got my mom’s interview made up, it was obvious that I needed to pop the same questions to my grandmothers. Since neither of my grandmothers are computer-users and I’m the world’s worst snail-mailer, this took some doing: getting my mom to print out the questions, having a cousin ferry them out to the farm, and finally being able to pick them up while on my current bout of holidays. But anyway, here is the first, coming from my mother’s mother, who grew up the daughter of the shopkeeper in a small town in southern Saskatchewan. She married a farmer and went on to have four children to sew (or not) for. Just for reference, she was born in the 1920s, grew up during the Depression, and was married and had most of her children in the 1950s. Once again, my interjections are italicized.

Were you exposed to sewing in the home growing up?

Yes! My mother made a lot of our dresses for school & our “Best dresses” for church or special occasions, with hems that could be let down as we grew taller. (no slacks in those days)

How did you and your peers view sewing? What about the older generation?

It was expected for girls to learn to sew a little, and our mothers expected us to learn. (This is where I wish it was an in-person interview. The next question would be: did you enjoy sewing, did it provide a creative outlet, or was it just another household chore?)

How and from whom did you learn to sew?

My mother. (No Home Ec in the one-room schoolhouse, I guess)

On what kind of machine(s)?

Eatons pedal (a treadle machine. If I’m not mistaken, she still has it stashed somewhere.)

Where did you get your fabric, patterns, other supplies?

We ordered some of our fabric from the Eatons or Simpson catalogs. Sometimes cut down an older, larger dress etc. We also could buy patterns. Patterns could also be sent for to (ordered from) Eatons or Simpsons or sometimes from some patterns advertized in the newspapers.

What kind of finishing/techniques did you use?

We trimmed collars etc. with lace, rickrack, bias tape, etc. Made tucks and pleats and ruffles. We also made our own nighties and pyjamas.

Did you learn much about fitting?

My mother taught me. Her mother, my grandmother, was a seamstress in Ontario. She would go from one family to another, sewing for the whole family. She would stay at their place for a few days or a week or so. She had her own portable sewing machine. They gave her meals & a bed to sleep in. On some patterns you had to shorten or lengthen the bodice to the waist line etc. or widen it. (Wow, this is so neat! I had never even heard that before. Hmm, I will have to do some more digging to see if I can come up with a time period for that…)

Did you at any point feel like part of a sewing community, or was it a solitary activity?

Most of my friends sewed a little. Blouses and dresses etc. During the war the Ladies Aid would get together and make & quilt quilts for the refugees. We also knitted socks and mitts for the soldiers.

What (if anything) inspired you to sew in the first place?

It was expected that you learn to sew. I sewed my own wedding dress and dressing gown (which I still have). (must get some pictures of that…)

How has your interest in sewing changed over the years?

I sewed for [my daughters] as they grew up making pleated skirts, slacks, dresses, nighties, etc. (My mother informs me that most of this sewing stopped by the time she was about nine. At this point, in the early sixties, Grandma had four kids, lots to do, and it had become easier to buy ready-made clothes than make them.)

When did you stop sewing (or did you?)

I still sew, but it is patching overalls, hemming tea towels, making curtains and sewing up seams.

Anything else you’d like to mention?

Flour bags made of cotton were washed and hemmed for tea towels. Five bags opened up made a sheet for your bed. They made nice pillow cases if embroidered with flowers etc (P.S.) I still have some. Sugar bags (100 lbs) made small table cloths with embroidery corners or centers. I now use an electric portable. (My mother think Grandma still has some of these stashed around the house… I will have to go hunting next time I make it to the farm…)

PS: I am home at last from a delightful couple of weeks Back Home (if you get the distinction). Hopefully there will be sewing in the very, very near future. In the meantime, I apologize for the long silence…

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “A Sewing Interview (Part II)

  1. Love, love, love this! So interesting to learn about how it used to be done.
    And reading the word “slacks” makes me think of my grandma. Tee hee.

  2. I was worried about where you’d gone off to! I’m feeling a traveling seamstress-pioneer-steampunk novella coming on. It’s almost November!!

  3. Some historian should start to collect these interviews with mothers and grandmothers soo, it´s such valuable information – very cool that she made her own wedding gown!

    My grandmother used to make tea towels out of flour bags too! My mother have them still, and she has generously given some to me as well, they are great for baking, for instance! :-)

  4. Fascinating! And great that it is now recorded – I love family history stories and it is great that they are told before they are lost. How cool that your g-g-grandmother was a travelling seamstress!

  5. Welcome back! Interesting perspective from your grandma! I am very proud of my grandmas too, one chose to be a tailor and the other one stitched for herself all her life along with a lot of embroidery work and knitting!

  6. I just returned from a long break too. Welcome back! I enjoyed reading your interview and thanks for the tip on my striped tunic. I do like it pulled up a little higher, so it is snug around my hips, with the top blousing over a bit!

  7. Welcome home! We missed you and you totally missed Oona’s bd week. :)

    • I know! I was reading just enough to know that it was going on without me. /sniffle. Ah, well. I did plenty of partying and wearing my me-made dresses… just not on camera or blog…

  8. The thriftiness is awesome, and I’m impressed that after all this time she still remembers how many flour bags make a bedsheet or table cloth. And a travelling seamstress, wow, I had never heard of such a thing but what a great profession for a young woman, providing independence and income. Thanks for sharing the interview :)

  9. This is so cool!! My maternal great-grandmother went to finishing school in Switzerland (she immigrated to Canada when she was 18) and learned incredible embroidery techniques. And because I’m the only grandkid that appreciates sewing, I’m lucky enough to have inherited what’s left of her hand sewn and embroidered tea towels, pillowcases and a couple of tablecloths. The workmanship is incredible. Needless to say, I rarely, if ever use them, although I occasionally will pull them out of my cedar chest and admire the work.

  10. Nice to have you back, and I loved reading this. I can’t imagine living with another family and sewing for them. I can hardly stand to sew for my own family.

  11. Wow, cool I wish my grandmothers were still around so I could ask them these questions. This is great.

    Glad to have you back!

  12. So cool to hear all these old stories! My mother’s mother has passed on, but she sewed for years for my mom and for herself. I inherited some of her patterns, which are all teeny tiny (the women in my family are small-boned, which I am not). We had a few of these discussions, although I never thought to record them much to my dismay.

    My father’s mother, on the other hand, is still kicking around and although she is an accomplished crafter, I don’t think she ever sewed. I’ll have to ask when I see her around the holidays.

    Good to have you back!

  13. Wow – this is awesome. It really was different then, when sewing was a necessity for all vs a creative outlet for some. I inherited my grandmother’s old Kenmore SM and I just love sewing on it. It’s a treasure to me.

  14. What an interesting interview! I’m fascinated by the traveling seamstress thing. What an interesting life that must’ve been.

    I’ve been thinking of interviewing some of my family members, particularly different generations. I wonder if my Great Grandma would be up to a few questions? Would you mind if I swiped some of your questions here for my own interviews?

  15. Joy

    It’s really fun to read these interviews. It’s great you’ve asked these questions while you have the chance – my sewing relatives (besides my mom) have all passed away.

  16. Pingback: Hallowe’en wrap-up | Tanit-Isis Sews

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