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…