I learned how to sew way back in the 9th grade. It was the era when Home Economics was a required class for all female students. The curriculum for the class included cooking, poise, sewing, as well as many other topics. The instructor, Mrs. H., was a very tall, thin woman. Her attire was always professional with a very crisp and clean appearance. A vision we might associate with being prim and proper. Mrs. H. had very little tolerance for imperfection. Everything had to be just so. She was so serious that I can hardly recall seeing her smile.
Mrs. H demanded the same level of perfection from her students as she did from herself. Her very high standards made me extremely nervous. So uneasy that one day my nerves got the best of me. While learning how to make hot chocolate I made a tiny little mistake. Instead of measuring out and pouring in sugar I used salt. Now what’ so wrong about that? LOL! Unfortunately I didn’t realize this until it was time for Mrs. H to take a taste. She always sampled everything we made. Well I’m sure you can imagine her reaction when she took her first sip. She was expecting, or at least hoping for, a smooth, creamy, delicious hot chocolate. Instead she her taste buds were assaulted by the overbearing flavor of salt. I was so devastated and humiliated. That little goof was an experience I will never forget.
Well, as I mentioned earlier, learning how to sew was also part of the Home Economics class. This was the section I most looked forward to. My Mom did a lot of sewing and I always marveled at how she could take a piece of fabric and turn it into something so beautiful. How proud I was to be the recipient of one of her home-made dresses. Unfortunately she never did pass her knowledge on to me. Why? I’m not sure. Of course I don’t remember asking her either.
Through the mentoring of Mrs. H and the Home Economics class I would learn how to sew. At the beginning of this section I was under the impression that we would jump right in to constructing a garment. All I wanted to do was buy some fabric, cut out a pattern and sew. But oh no! We had to first learn how to hand sew on buttons, snaps, clasps and even hand stitch a button-hole. The nerve of Mrs. H! How could she expect us to do such labor intensive, boring tasks!
When we finally graduated to making our first garment, Mrs. H. managed to stifle more of my enthusiasm by requiring that we pre-shrink our fabric. To pre-shrink it we were instructed to immerse the fabric in water then gently squeeze out the excess. The fabric was then to be carefully spread out on the floor making certain the fibers ran straight and were not distorted. While drying we were told to anchor it down with heavy objects to keep it in place. I used my Mom’s canning jars filled with her wonderful home-made pickles to secure mine. Although I did learn something about fabric through this exercise I wouldn’t even think of doing this today. If I even considered pre-shrinking my fabric I would use my electric washing machine and dryer instead.
After surviving the horribly boring task of preparing my fabric I assumed we would finally be ready to start our projects. I was so excited when I arrived in class with my fabulously pre-shrunk fabric. Once again Mrs. H. had other ideas. She felt it necessary to first walk us through the dynamics of working with a pattern. Included in the instruction were how to read a pattern, how to find and cut out the pieces you needed, and how to properly lay them out. She also taught us to utilize a tape measure to make certain the pieces were placed on the “straight of grain.” From there we were instructed on the proper technique for pinning our pattern pieces and how to use a scissors when cutting them out. Of utmost importance was the necessity to keep the bottom blade of the scissors in contact with the table at all times. If we lifted our scissors off the table while cutting fabric, the possibility was there for our cuts to be less than accurate. A messy cut could result in a garment which would turn out less than perfect; it could have a distorted appearance. Mrs. H tried very hard to turn us in to seamstresses. To her credit I did eventually finish my dress.
At the completion of the sewing project we were required to fill out a detailed self-analysis of our adherence to the prescribed sewing techniques. I, of course, thought I had done a spectacular job and thus saw no reason why I should not give myself a glowing review. Mrs. H, on the other hand, had been secretly watching my every move. Her review was not as rosy as mine. Among the critiques of my work was the inexcusable lifting of my scissors. Oh GASP! :0) My ego was a bit deflated after receiving her less than perfect rating but I lived to see another day, go on to sew miles of stitches and make oodles of projects.
Looking back over the memories I have retained from my experiences in Home Economics I must say they played a prominent role on my path to quilting. The effects of Mrs. H’s influence on my life are still evident today. I am a very particular sewer. I’m fussy on how my seams lay, how many pins I use, and the quality of my finished product. Mrs. H gets some of the credit for my success. Here’s to you Mrs. H!