Sharing a love of sewing across generations
January 1, 2024 | View PDF
My daughter Erin called from her home in Colorado and left a voice message, "Call me when convenient. I want to talk about quilt batting."
Erin had recently resumed work on the corduroy quilt she started over 20 years ago. The top was finished and she wanted to put the layers together, bind it and tie it. This was the same daughter who greatly disliked sewing in seventh grade Home-Ec class at Colony Middle School. It was too structured. She was more of the "creative" type. I'm glad she eventually grew to share my love of sewing.
One day as a young girl, my mother suggested my sister and I cut out material to make a Dresden plate quilt like her Aunt Carrie had made. Although Mom didn't sew much, she produced a box of vintage fabric remnants and showed us how to create a template, which my sister and I used to cut out 18 pieces of various fabrics. Something came up, our lesson ended with the plan that we would work on that project later, and I was tasked to keep track of the box. Later never came. I still have that little black box containing the seeds and dreams of a beautiful quilt.
Another project was my idea: Clothes for my Barbie doll. I don't know where the pattern came from, but I cut out material and sewed several items by hand. They weren't as fancy or as professional as store bought, but I enjoyed the process of making them.
When 4-H started in Glennallen, in the mid 1960s, I signed up for sewing, cooking, woodworking and electricity. Sewing was my favorite. I made a clothespin storage holder, and a pincushion, and was so happy when they won ribbons in the 4-H division of the Alaska State Fair in Palmer. Soon mom purchased a sewing machine through the mail for family use. By the time I took Home-Ec in high school, I was sewing a lot of my own clothes.
I remember one project in particular. Another girl and I showed up to class with the exact same materials for a dress/vest set. Unknowingly, we had both ordered our material out of the Montgomery Ward catalog. The local store had some yardage, but not to our liking and driving to Anchorage only for fabric was unthinkable. She made the blue print dress with solid blue vest. I made the green. And we each looked best in the colors we chose. At least that was a comment I heard when we modeled our dresses at the Mother/Daughter Tea.
I kept that sewing machine humming while I attended high school: Pants, skirts, shirts, dresses, a tie for Dad, a shirt for my boyfriend. By the time of my wedding, I felt confident enough to make my dress and help my sisters with their bridesmaid and maid-of-honor dresses. My husband bought a sewing machine for me as a wedding gift.
After we married, the tradition continued with curtains, bedspreads, bathrobes, and even a swimsuit. Even when we lived without electricity, I still managed to sew. One winter I used a treadle machine to make a blue jean quilt. Another time, I babysat and was paid with use of electricity in order to use my sewing machine.
When my children were little, I enjoyed sewing for them, including making Halloween costumes. One year I looked high and low for camouflage material to make my son some pants like his Papa's. My timing was just a little off because the next year camouflage pants for boys were all the rage. Sears began selling them and all of a sudden in the fabric stores, several patterns of camouflage material could be found. When Erin was six, I made the dress she wore as flower girl in my brother's wedding. The blue ribbon it was awarded at the Alaska State Fair that fall is still treasured.
My sewing machine didn't see much use for several years when life got so busy with working part time and chauffeuring the kids to their sports activities. But during the summer Erin was 13, my desire to sew something was so strong I told her I'd like to make some clothes for her. She picked out two patterns and the materials. I sewed hard for two weeks and completed a dress and another three-piece outfit. She only wore these items once or twice before her tastes drastically changed. She preferred a new style, which could only be found in thrift stores.
My son surprised me during his first year in college with a special request for a polar fleece jacket, which was a new and different challenge. A few years later, I added a pair of polar fleece pants for use with all his downhill skiing. My husband asked for custom made driving light covers for his truck.
Even with my teacher aide job at Slana School, my love for sewing came in handy. One year for the Christmas play, I made costumes for a shepherd, Joseph, Mary and an angel. Another year for a 1950s theme play, with a little help, I made eight poodle skirts of various colors and sizes. Some of the girls continued to wear their skirts after the play ended.
The biggest challenge of all came with making 15 quilts out of the clothes my mother wore during her teaching career-a quilt for each of her grandchildren. Even though they were made with a simple rectangle pattern, twin size, and tied rather than quilted, that project took me 10 years on and off from start to finish. All the time and effort was worth it, though, when I gave the first one away to a niece living in Fairbanks. Her daughter watched as she looked at her quilt with a big smile on her face, pointing to certain pieces of material saying, "I remember Grandma wearing that and that..."
As I thought about our upcoming conversation about quilt batting and all the sewing I've enjoyed through the years, I find it even more special knowing my daughter shares that same love.
Maraley McMichael is a lifelong Alaskan currently residing in Palmer. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.