As I was cutting out some small pieces for a new quilt top, I began thinking in my mind of the many changes that have come about since I began my sewing career about 68 years ago.
When I was a girl fabrics and thread came with a “boilfast” label or we didn’t buy them. We also preferred the “preshrunk” fabrics and ones that boldly stated “colorfast” as the dye in most fabrics from back in the day had a tendency to fade as the clothes hung on the clothesline. And if the color wasn’t fast it meant that it would run when put into water and then other fabrics would pick up the dye from the water. Fabric has come a long way and most of it is better than when I was a child.
Some of you reading this will remember with me and others will just look at this like it is a piece of fiction. For example, do you remember when we only had scissors for cutting fabric? My brother who quilts gave me my first rotary cutter and a small cutting mat to get me started using those tools. Oh, my! When I think of all the quilt pieces I cut out by tracing around a paper pattern and then carefully following that line with a pair of scissors, I have to wonder how any of us ever got a quilt top done and how the seams matched up as well as they did.
Sewing machines have changed too. Do you remember when we had a machine that would only sew straight lines? And we were glad to have it. My grandmother had a treadle sewing machine and I learned to use it and wish I had it now. My mom’s machine was electric in a wonderful cabinet with a large lid that folded back from the machine to make a place for the fabric to go as it traveled out from under the feed dogs. Now I have a sewing machine that does practically anything with the touch of a finger on the computer control, another sewing machine that makes a cover stitch for hemming knit fabric, a serger for sturdy seams and of course my old faithful that Bob bought for me two years after we married. It was and is an awesome machine that uses cams to change the stitch. Oh wow, I thought I had the ultimate machine when I got that one and it has certainly earned its keep.
Do you remember when we left the sewing machine and went to the ironing board to press those seams the electric iron was only “dry” and we kept an R.C. Cola bottle of water on the ironing board with a sprinkler stopper in it so we could sprinkle a bit of water and then iron it dry. Or sometimes we had a dish with a damp washcloth in it and we would run the damp cloth over the seam and then iron it. No steam iron back then.
For those clothes we wanted to be starched, or the quilt fabrics we wanted stiffened so they would be easier to cut and work with, we “made” starch. No can of spray starch on the ironing board for us. It came from the store as a powder and we mixed it with cold water and then cooked it on the stove, stirring constantly until it boiled so it wouldn’t have lumps in it. Then it was thinned with rinse water and how thin we made it depended on what we wanted to be starched. The collars and cuffs of dress shirts got the stiffest starch along with the “frilly-dilly” doilies mom had on several tables in the house. The doilies that lay flat also got starched stiff but not so much as the fluffy ones. After these were taken care of, more water was added to thin out the starch and the tablecloths that were used on Sunday were starched. The last things through the starch were men’s pants. Yes, they were starched so they would hold their creases. We knew a farmer’s wife who starched her husband’s overalls and ironed them and they had a crease you could have used for cutting.
All the good fabrics were natural; cotton, linen, wool etc. and those fabrics from man-made fibers were often considered shoddy because they did not hold up like the “real” fibers did. Rayon was a common man-made fiber and the seams in it easily pulled apart so its most common usage was for ladies Sunday “go to meeting” dresses. Church clothes were worn only to church and back and then were taken off and an “everyday” dress put on. So rayon was considered an o.k. fabric for a Sunday dress. I like the fabric choices we have now and I especially like the permanent press factor.
Yes, remember when…and that makes me appreciate all the newer conveniences even more. Can’t imagine cutting everything with scissors anymore! Just as I cannot imagine living again with no email, no Internet or no automobile. We did it “back in the day” but I don’t want to go back, do you?
April 26, 2015