I never did like Home Ec…

Florence Sewing Machine – Patented 1850

Back in the 1950s,  Home Economics was still part of the required curriculum for eighth grade girls and Shop was the equivalent requirement for boys.  For some reason, the year I had “Home Ec,” as we called it, the cooking component wasn’t taught — just sewing.  I think that was fine by me.  I wasn’t really interested in any of the “domestic sciences.”  (I understand the term is now “Family & Consumer Sciences” in most school districts where home ec is still taught — usually only as a high school elective, now.)

I have to reluctantly admit that the skills I learned at age twelve stood me in good stead — especially during college and my early married years.  Money was scarce and if I wanted a new skirt or dress, I could usually justify spending a bit for fabric and thread.  My Aunt Mona gave me her portable Singer sewing machine which I still have, though I use it infrequently these days. We also have, upstairs, a very old treadle sewing machine — a Florence patented in 1850.

Judging by the letters she wrote to Medora in the early 1900s talking about borrowing Tina Wachsmuth’s machine, I don’t think that the Florence machine belonged to my grandmother.  Perhaps it was my great-grandmother Julia’s and came into this house later on.  Or maybe it wasn’t working properly.  I’ve never had the gumption to try it.

An Antique Sampler

But I do have a drawer of “sewing stuff” at the bottom of the wardrobe closet in my bedroom — boxes of buttons, papers of pins and needles, odd bits of rick-rack and a tape measure or two.  There are remnants from various sewing projects, a collection of old patterns and even a darning egg I think.  (I don’t think I’ve darned a sock since 1960!) I get into that drawer less and less frequently nowadays.  But every time I do, I remember that eighth grade sewing class and the patient advice of the teacher.  What was her name?  Mrs. Curry?

One of my cousins has a sampler so carefully stitched by one of our great-great-greats  (Mary Ann McKee ?) in the 1800s. These samplers were stitched more to demonstrate knowledge than to preserve skill. The stitching of samplers was believed to be a sign of virtue, achievement and industry, and girls were taught the art from a young age.  That style of needlework reached its height of popularity between the 1830s and 1870s.   I wonder if home-sewn clothing will ever completely disappear and if examples will be found framed on the walls of the seamstress’s descendants.  Or, perhaps, in museums.

 

 

 

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