“I double-dog dare ya!”
Well, no it wasn’t like that at all, but I DID take up sewing on a dare.
When I was a sophomore in high school, I had a classmate whose mother was a seamstress.
Valerie (though that wasn’t her REAL name) wore the cutest outfits to school saying, “My mother made this,” and “My mother made that.”
It made me sick.
One day, I said, “Valerie, ANYBODY can sew.”
“Oh, yeah? Well, let’s see YOU do it.”
Mind you, this was in the early 1970s, and there simply weren’t many (read any) books on sewing for men. I went to the local library and found several books on dressmaking and adapted what I learned. The only difference between men’s and women’s clothing was whether closures lapped left over right or right over left, right?
I bought a pattern. I took a razor blade to several velvet gowns I found balled up in the back of my mother’s closet (with her permission, of course). I hand-stitched a black velvet buccaneer shirt with high Edwardian collar, deep lace-up V-neck, and gathered sleeves with red velvet inverted pleats down the length.
I wore it to school and announced, “I made this!”
(Valerie never said another word about the clothes her mother made.)
No lack of models . . .
I am the oldest of seven children: five boys and two girls.
After my success with the shirt, I convinced my parents to buy a better sewing machine (my mother’s machine was older than me, and sewed fitfully at best). I took to sewing clothes for my parents and siblings.
At the start of the school year, we would go window shopping to get an idea of the latest styles. Then, my siblings would pick the fabric, I’d pick the patterns, and I would sew their clothes.
My first attempts were not pretty (sorry to say), but my skills slowly improved.
My parents soon learned that “making” clothes cost more than simply “buying” them.
Sometimes, on Saturday afternoon, my mother would say she’d like a new dress for church on Sunday. I would sew through the night, and hem her dress in time for church.
My father wondered, “What the Hell does THIS mean?”
Well, of course it meant exactly what he thought it meant, but THAT’S another story for another time.
One day, he asked if I could teach him how to make a pair of jeans.
I told him, “Sure. Let’s buy some denim, and a pattern, and . . .”
“This is my pattern,” he said, tugging on the jeans he was wearing.
So, he took a razor blade to his favorite pair of jeans. (Do you sense a theme here?) I showed him how to press the pieces flat, lay them on the denim, pin them, and cut them out.
First, I showed him how to reassemble his original pair of jeans, then, I showed him how to assemble his new pair.
He was hooked.
Some fathers and sons bond over baseball games. Some fathers and sons bond over hunting and fishing.
My father and I bonded over a sewing machine.
When I graduated high school and moved away from home, my father took over sewing for the family.
My mother and my two sisters never touched the sewing machine (that I know of). My father still uses it to this day.
Whatever happened to that first shirt? Well, the books I read taught me a lot about sewing techniques, but I must have skipped the fabric care section. My velvet buccaneer shirt fell apart in the washing machine.
I never sewed velvet again.