Preparing to Sew

What do you do to prepare to sew? I mean honestly? Is there something you do? Do you have a plan in place? Do you have a ritual of some sort you go through? Do you think about what you’re going to sew before you get into your sewing room or sewing area? Do you have to make sure that everything else is taken care of before you can even begin to think about touching any sewing notion or a piece of fabric?

According to the advice given to women when they first received their sewing machines in 1949 there were definite things that you needed to do before sewing. Because of the year this was printed, I just had to see if this same thing was printed in the manual of my Mom’s (well I guess it has technically been mine for the last 27 years, but I still call it hers) Singer Featherweight machine manual has that same thing in it. So of course I had to go get the machine case out and pull out the manual. Yes, Mom was ritualistic enough to keep the manual AND to write the date of purchase inside the front cover, 9-5-47. That would have not been too long after Dad had graduated from seminary if I remember correctly and was being commissioned into the Air Force. But alas, the above advice was not written in this very small, yet thorough manual that accompanied the machine.

And I have to admit, I’ve seen this little blurb many times over the past few years on that wonderful social media site of facebook. And I’ve giggled at it every time I’ve read it. But tonight it was sent to me by a dear friend who I met back in the early 70s when we were both in grade school. She made a comment that rang so true it made me start thinking. Denise said, “Shelly Roberts….your mom was always put together when she sewed…can you imagine you having to do that now?”

Let’s really think about this. In 1947, women were expected to keep the house tidy and clean at all times. They made the beds every morning to the point a coin could be bounced off them (and often the sheets on those beds — which were washed, line dried, starched and ironed weekly). I don’t know about you but I certainly don’t line dry, starch and iron my sheets weekly–I don’t starch and iron my sheets ever. I will do my pillow cases if they are ones I have made from cotton, but not my sheets.

Women were expected to serve a complete breakfast after getting dressed and waking their husband and children every morning. How many of you get up every morning and fix a complete breakfast of eggs, bacon, ham or sausage, grits, cream of wheat or fried potatoes, and have hot buttered biscuits on the table when your freshly pressed and dressed family comes to the table to eat together before they all leave for work and school? I don’t know about you, but my husband leaves for work at 5:30 a.m., my daughter arrives home from work at 8:00 a.m., while I have gotten her children up and ready for school at 7:00 to be on the bus by 8:00 a.m. during the school year. Now just when am I supposed to serve them this breakfast for us all to sit down and eat together?

After the woman of the home has gotten her family fed and out the door to work and school, she had a house to clean and laundry to do, shopping to do and other errands to perform for the day. Because, after all, she was in charge of everything in and around the home and was responsible for keeping things running and making sure that all children had everything they needed for school projects and lunches and all household errands were completed before the children arrived home in the afternoon. So she has already had a full day of cooking and cleaning and running around town. You notice she has yet to step inside her sewing area–it is not a room, but a small area designated with her sewing machine and a small sewing basket for mending and a few patterns for making clothes for herself and her daughter. She may have a bag for scrap fabric for making a quilt at some time when she has enough scraps.

By the time the children have come home, she has already changed out of her day outfit that she has worn all day cleaning and running her errands in. She has freshened her make up again, because we know that she did not dare go out in public with out her powder and lip stick on and her hair fixed for someone might have seen her. She would have worn a pair of low heeled pumps so as not to turn an ankle while grocery shopping or running up and down stairs taking dirty or clean laundry to and from the washing machine or outside to the line. So she has now changed into another dress, one that is more suitable for meeting her husband at the door and for spending the evening with the family. She will spend the late afternoon preparing dinner, no frozen or box prepared dinners for this housewife. No she has to prepare everything from scratch. When she isn’t in the kitchen, she is making sure each of her children is doing their homework correctly. There won’t be television time for them, most families don’t have televisions at this point in time. If they are lucky, there might be radio adventure series show on in the late afternoon geared towards the children to listen to. Other wise, it is homework, a brief time to play outside, and then time to wash up and change clothes for dinner. Can you imagine the number of clothes they went through with as many times as they changed clothes during a day?

After serving dinner, the woman was then responsible for cleaning up the dishes and kitchen after dinner. If she was very lucky, she had children old enough to do chores (yes they did those things back then) and they were responsible for dishes that night. Then she was responsible for getting children bathed, changed for bed and tucked in. It was THEN that she could finally have time to herself that she could go spend time sewing. Again, if she was lucky she was able to spend time in the afternoon doing some sewing, after all, how dirty can a house get between one scrubbing and another when they were taught at a very young age to scrub everything to shine?

So yes, I can very well see these words being very true for the ladies of the mid to late 40’s. I remember Mom following many of these guidelines into the early 70’s. It wasn’t until Mom became too ill to follow these practices of making sure the house was tidy as a pin before sewing. But by then I was in high school and she didn’t have to worry about taking care of me and my homework. And by then, she would just go from her bed to the sewing room and back to bed. But there were certain practices she always held on to.

The sitting room of the house–or for most people it would be called the living room or formal living room, was always kept neat and tidy, just in case a guest came to visit. She always had the makings for dump cake or some other very easy to throw together dessert, just in case a guest came to the house. She never went a day without putting on that powder and lipstick–and before Dad arrived home every evening, she would always refresh it and comb her hair, just for him. She never went anywhere in the house without some sort of shoe or slipper on, and if it was a slipper it usually was some blinged out slipper just to make her feel pretty, which she was no matter what her feet looked like.

So,…. to the women that used to sew deep into the night or got up very, very early in the morning so they could sew and still do everything else that needed to be done…
….to the women that cleaned and scrubbed and took care of children at home during the day and had to find time to clean and cook and sew in between everything else….
….to the women that were our Mothers, Grandmothers or Great Grandmothers that taught us how life should be…
I apologize to you on behalf of all of us that no longer do all that you once did before we start to sew….
…..on behalf of all of the jokes we tell of we learned to be quilters that means we no longer no how to cook or do housework….
…..on behalf of all the afternoon snacks that aren’t homemade cookies that aren’t homemade, but store bought packages of cookies….
…..on behalf of all of us that opt for a meal out of a can, a box and a frozen package as opposed to taking the time to make it from fresh ingredients or going out to dinner instead…
….on behalf of all of us that would rather wear our pj’s and run the sewing machine bare footed.

My Mom and I in 1966

And in honor of my Mom, my Grandmother, and my 2 Aunts and all of the rest of the women of their generations, I salute you for all you did for us women and sewing, for keeping it alive, for teaching us the younger generations how to sew and keep it moving on–even if we aren’t mentally prepared, well put together and have our powder and lip stick on and we aren’t ready for guests at a minute’s notice. We love you all.

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