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MN Prairie Roots: Once upon a time I was a seamstress

Spools of thread in the sewing box I haven't opened in years.
Photo by Audrey Kletscher Helbling
Spools of thread in the sewing box I haven't opened in years.

I ALWAYS THOUGHT I’d sew clothes for my family. That was before children, in the days when I was young and had no realistic concept of the time demands of parenting.

I grew up sewing—clothes for myself, dresses for my Grandma who quilted like a mad woman but couldn’t follow a pattern. She quilted while I stitched shapeless dresses for her from polyester and cotton.

Nearly all of the clothing I wore as a teen in the 1970s, I made. Hot pants. Smocks. Dresses. Elephant leg pants, which never fit right around the waist because I was way too skinny. Pajamas. Even underwear, a rather challenging task presented by a home economics teacher who thought we should sew underwear from some slinky, slippery impractical fabric. The project was a failure.

But I digress. I loved to sew—to choose crisp, cotton fabric, and, yes, sometimes even stretchy polyester, from bolts packed onto shelves in the fabric store or in the basement of J.C. Penney in Redwood Falls or in the grocery store/general store in Lucan. The prints were psychedelic pieces of art—bold and crazy and colorful.

I can't state with certainty that this is cotton fabric from the 1970s. I picked it up several years ago at a thrift store because it reminds me of psychedelic 70s prints.

I loved paging through thick catalogs of patterns, choosing just the right trendy design to match manufactured clothes.

While I didn’t particularly enjoy the pinning of tissue paper patterns to fabric or the measuring and cutting process, I loved sliding the fabric across the sewing machine, stitching straight, even lines or easy curves until I’d created something I could wear.

There's a certain satisfaction in guiding fabric under a pressure foot, the needle pumping through fabric.

The ability to sew truly rated as a necessity more than an indulgence in a creative outlet. Our poor farm family couldn’t afford closets full of store-bought clothes. If I wanted clothing, I would need to sew them.

So, with that background, I expected to continue sewing as an adult. When I graduated from high school, my parents gave me a Sears Kenmore sewing machine as my graduation gift. My oldest brother got a car. Yeah, well…

Fast forward through college—definitely no time for sewing then, except during breaks back home on the farm. Launched into the working world 3 ½ years later as a newspaper reporter, I had precious little time for sewing.

And so the years passed, until I became a mother in 1986 with grandiose plans of stitching cute little dresses for my first-born daughter. That never happened and I had even less time when my second daughter arrived 21 months later. On a tight time and money budget, I mostly relied on rummage sale clothes to dress my daughters and later, my son.

It's been years now since I used my sewing machine. Somewhere in the busyness of raising three children and in the economic reality that I could purchase store-bought or recycled for less than the cost of fabric and a pattern, I lost interest in sewing.

I haven't lost, though, the thrill of walking into the fabric section of a store, perusing the bolts of cloth and running my hands across the woven threads.

And it seems to me that the prints today are bold and crazy and colorful, quite like the psychedelic prints of the 70s.

HOW ABOUT YOU? Did you, like me, sew at one time? Or are you a creative seamstress,  stitching away today?

Copyright 2012 Audrey Kletscher Helbling

This post was written by Audrey Kletscher Helbling and originally published on  Minnesota Prairie Roots.

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