“Think how nice it would be, when mother is busy with her sewing and mending, to sit beside her on a little low chair and help her with that big sewing basket over-flowing with work.”
Wouldn’t it be nice if one with passion and skill for sewing shared those skills with children; awakening them to the art while fostering community, family togetherness and promoting personal industrialism?
At one time, that’s exactly how it was.
At the height of sewing popularity, educational systems stressed the fundamental need for every girl to naturally learn to sew as early as kindergarten, earlier if possible. What’s more, because of the valuable life lessons one could ideally impress upon young people boys were also encouraged to learn basic sewing skills.
• Cleanliness because clean hands, nails and face were the first lessons learned in preparation of sewing,
• Leadership because students quickly learned to forward think, plan and make decisions,
• Work ethic because sewing required regular commitment to achieve final success,
• Sustainability because sewing was a viable way of earning a living and caring for self and family,
• Dedication because sewing is a life-long learned art and
• Economy because thrift, usefulness and practicality were stressed throughout the learning process,
Another sewing book reads:
Then work with a purpose bear ever in mind, thread strengthened in childhood prove great joy to mankind.
Elementary teachings stressed the belief that lessons in sewing for both boys and girls not only delighted the child, but gave little ones a broader outlook into the world and deeper knowledge of the world and of themselves. For this reason, sewing instruction wasn’t delayed too long.
Preliminaries out of the way, basic classroom supplies generally included: a tape measure, a paper of needles of assorted sizes, one spool each of red and black thread, a pair of scissors, a thimble, muslin, a scratch pad, pencil, a notebook and a clean sewing apron for carrying small notions.
Sewing lessons lasting no more than a quarter of an hour were made as entertaining as possible in effort to allow time for instruction and hands-on practice without risking loss of interest or focus on the part of young pupils.
Valuable hand stitches: over handing, hemming, running, back stitching, gathering, overcasting, buttonholing, herringboning, feathering and darning were taught by practicing on muslin using easy to see black or red thread. Practice pieces were pressed and mounted into notebooks so children could see and refer back to past workmanship. A living document so to speak
The most industrious sewing books supplemented sewing lessons with songs set to popular melodies:
For basting: “In and out, in and out. This is the way we baste about.”
For overcasting: “Over we go, over we go; joining two pieces as we sew.”
For running stitches: “Now we sew, now we sew; many stitched in a row.”
For hemming: “Sew the hem down, sew the hem down; for each stitch we will make every sound.”
Another way sewing stitches were practiced was to outline simple shapes of animals or other familiar items: houses, trees, geometric shapes and fruit with various hand stitches.
During the learning process if a child wasn’t successful in their initial attempts, practicing was encouraged, but no one insisted the child keep at it until exactness was acquired.
In the beginning, the primary objective was making correct stitches, not doing fine needlework.
That came with time and practice.
Author: Calandra Ferguson (I originally wrote this article while I was the Omaha Sewing Examiner).