The Tragic Optimist

Learning to sew

My aunt, me and my mom.  Mom is on the right.  She made my dress, my shawl, and her filmy top.

My aunt, me and my mom. Mom is on the right. She made my dress, my shawl, and her filmy top.

My mom can do wonders with all things textile.  Seriously.  (I’m bragging, but it’s not just bragging, it’s true).  She made my wedding dress.  And my wedding shawl.  She sews, she knits, she weaves, she felts.  Heck, she’s made money bags out of shredded money and hats out of dog hair, she’s even spun silk made by silkworms that she raised from eggs (they’re dumb little worms, by the way).  She has a master’s certificate in spinning (the kind where you make yarn, not where you pedal a bike to nowhere).  She’s a well-known teacher and author.  Basically, if it has to do with textiles, she’s all over it.

Somehow, though, I missed out on that gene.  I never even learned to sew.  Until this week.  Now that’s a little misleading, I can sew a button on by hand, and I understand the theory behind stitching things with a needle and thread, and I can knit, but I’d never worked a sewing machine. But recently, I was feeling like this was something I really ought to learn.  I should know at least the basics of sewing and clothing repair.  Enough to fix seams, to hem pants, to maybe sew a simple costume for Zoe.  So while my mom was here for a very short visit this week, we went out and got me my first sewing machine.  And I’ve taken a few lessons from mom, who by the way, is an awesome teacher (I was feeling like I hadn’t bragged on her enough this paragraph).  So far I have hemmed three pair of pants, sewn three buttons on, and darned a shirt.  I have to admit that I scoffed at the idea of sewing a button on with a machine.  I mean, it’s not hard to sew one on by hand.  But wow!  It’s so much faster with a machine.  And kind of fun, when you get past the terrifying, will-I-shatter-the-button? phase.

It got me thinking about why I hadn’t learned earlier.  Why didn’t I take advantage of her while I lived at home, where she has a great sewing machine, tons of fabric and all the tools to do all sorts of fun things.  Well, mom did try introducing me to it once in middle school, I think I sewed one piece of cloth, and that was it.  Mom says that it’s a matter of teaching when a person wants it.  It’s pretty similar to the “just in time” teaching philosophy that we talk about in the library sometimes.  No matter how much they’re going to need to know how to search an online database, no one is going to actually bother learning it until they know they’ll need it.  It’s one of the reasons I have such a hard time teaching in classes where the professor hasn’t yet given the students an assignment that will use the library’s resources.

But knowing now how much easier it is with a machine to hem my pants and sew on buttons – I really wish I would have been interested earlier.  And I have spoken with students who say they wished they’d learned to find things in the library before they were panicking about a paper.  Hindsight and all that, I guess.

Any skills or knowledge you wish you’d learned from your parents?  Or any skill that you hope to someday pass on to someone else?



  1. Alison

    I wish I were better at sewing. My mom always made all our Halloween costumes herself, but I am so slow that I let Kaylee’s first Halloween go by in a store-bought costume. I’ve made a few costumes. Enough to know shirts are hard, corsets are impossible, and I hate hemming enough to wear an unhemmed skirt in public year after year. I’ve never attempted a button. I can made decent throw-pillow cases though. 😛

    I wish I had the time to get better at all those SAHM type things my mom is so good at, like cooking and sewing. I just get home from work and don’t feel up to it most days, sad to say.

  2. Laura Hopper

    That’s so funny, Ann, because I just got my first sewing machine a few weeks ago as well. Well, I had my mom’s old one, but it was so elderly that I’d resorted to sewing everything by hand anyways. I did learn to sew as a kid (I mean, basics), but it’s so much more fun when you actually have a good tool to use! I’ve been amazed that most of the things I’ve gone to do have been so easy! I haven’t tried a button yet, though – that shattering thing just seems way to scary. Honestly, I’m not sure that until I got this machine I knew that you could sew a button on by machine (why had I never thought about it?). Hoorah for learning things we hadn’t learned up to now! 🙂

  3. wow that is amazing!!! I am glad you are learning from her now! My mom sews and quilts too, I can sew but not well! I should have learned more from her about that too! maybe i will 🙂

  4. I would love to be better at sewing but especially quilting. I tried to get my Granny to teach me once, but at the age of 80 she had about used up all her patience. My mom has recently taught herself to quilt and now does a really amazing job.

    Someday, someday . . .

  5. Oh yes! I’m there with you on the sewing, knitting etc. I started knitting on my own a few years ago and it just didn’t take. My mother is good at crocheting too and she says it’s easier for her, so maybe I could get her to teach me. As for the sewing, my mom made tons of our clothes and Halloween costumes, and doll clothes etc. when I was a kid. Wish I could do that!

    I think I’m hoping to pass on baking skills. Or a love of baking. I’m no expert and I’m not sure there’s all that much to it. But the idea of baking cookies with my kid(s) and having them enjoy it- that sounds perfect.

    Oh and I can’t forget English skills. Raising a child in a bilingual household it’s sometimes unnerving when you aren’t speaking the same language they are (momentarily). I want to be able to share my language with my daughter.

    Oh, and one last one. Please let my kids love reading as much as I do!!!

  6. I absolutely see the “just in time” philosophy in practice in my life (and work) too. My mom canned vegetables every year, and I wish I had cared or paid attention then. She is also a very capable gardener, and I just started attempting to grow flowers last year. I do not have a natural talent for this, so I called her a lot with basic questions. My dad knew how to fix anything on a car, and if I ran into car problems as a teenager I would just tell my dad that “the car made a funny noise” and he would take care of it. Now, I’m helpless when it comes to car problems!

    My brother and I didn’t read a lot when we were kids, and my mom reads a LOT. She used to wonder how she ended up with kids who weren’t readers, but as adults we both are. Heck, I’m a children’s librarian!

  7. CJ

    Thanks for the comment on my blog! 🙂

    And that’s wonderful that you are getting into sewing now. My grandma tried to teach me (my mom is without the sewing gene herself) but I was too young. And like you mentioned, I really had no NEED at the time. Now, how I wish I had the talent, but I am without a teacher!

  8. Heather

    Ann, I love this picture! It is wonderful

    I wish that I’d watched my grandmother more carefully when she cooked. She made a lot of classic dishes from her childhood in Kentucky: chicken and dumplings, potato pancakes (from mashed pot.), all varieties of bean soup, cornbread, and fried potatoes, fried chicken, biscuits and gravy, and pork chops.

    Even though I don’t eat a lot of the foods on this list and even though there are plenty of recipes for these dishes out there, I’d love to be able to make her versions (maybe with less lard) for people I love. This food was such a presence in our lives growing up that it seems like an important part of our family history.

  9. geeksinrome

    Bring able to sew and knit is amazing and I wish I picked it up from my mom like my siblings did. My bro even quilts and crochets! But she kind of gave it up when I was a kid.

    Things she taught me I will pass on: beekeeping, how to make candles, build stuff, observing human nature and nature nature, learning languages, how to save money/spend wisely, how to listen and learn, how to cherish…. When I add it all up, sewing was probably the last thing that mattered!!

    Also how to find a book in a library so you can learn how to do something your mom doesn’t know how to do like soap and paper making!! love the library!!!!

  10. I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

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