My mother, as she will tell you, is neither a very artsy person nor a very domesticated woman. While she is a rather gifted decorator, with an eye for beauty, detail, & quality — and a pocketbook which supports the artsy along with the arts, she doesn’t make things (other than reservations!). The result is that she didn’t teach me to sew or anything like that, and she was always rather fascinated by my continued purchase and completion of craft kits. As a kid, I taught myself to sew.
There was an older woman in our family who could have taught me, or at least nurtured me and and encouraged my interest; but she didn’t. (I’ll not name her, nor the relationship to me; so as not to hurt others and because the specifics of who she was does not matter as much as what she did or didn’t do.)
When I spotted this woman’s jar full of buttons, I was allowed to examine them. I fell in love with some adorable vintage lamb buttons (like these, except the ones I loved were made of white plastic). When she wouldn’t even broker the idea of giving me one, I decided I had to earn those coveted figural buttons. So I decided to teach myself to sew.
I began with what I thought would be a simple beginner’s project, using an iron-on transfer to place the blue outlines of a cheery juvenile bunny rabbit onto a piece of scrap muslin (both from a garage sale), and earnestly began making my first stitches.
After completing most of Mr. Bunny Rabbit’s head, I — in that shy sense of accomplishment of a beginner — presented my first wobbly stitches to this woman. I receive not one word of praise, even for taking up such an activity; instead she told me my stitches were uneven, clumsy, and generally poor.
They were uneven, clumsy, and generally poor — I was a child teaching herself needlework.
Had her appraisal included any sort of constructive tips in terms of just how to improve my stitches, I might not have been so devastated.
But I didn’t give up. I just didn’t show her, or anyone else, what I was working on. In my mind, I thought if I could improve, if I could make something worthy of showing, that one day I’d earn her respect — and those cute figural lamb buttons.
But I never did.
I never felt skilled enough to show that woman what I made, needlework or otherwise.
Years passed. I continued to make things. But, full of that woman’s scorn for my work, feeling that my skills were so poor that I’d never be worth mention let alone any investment in time, supplies or support, I just “piddled about” with projects on my own. My parents knew what I did, simply because good parents know what their children are up to, be it reading, crafting, or whatnot.
So when this woman got too old to use any of her sewing machines, my parents asked if I could have one. That woman refused; like the jar full of old buttons, the sewing machines just vanished from her house — and my life. But not my memory.
Instead of giving me the gifts of her time and counsel, of nurturing me and my skills, this woman left me with a very poor opinion of my work. I made less things, tried less projects, and, certain what I was making was crap, I obviously wasn’t going to let my peers see the fruits of my “piddling about.” By the time high school ended, so had my crafting efforts. I put them on hold for that “someday” when I’d have my own apartment and could piddle in private.
The story of that path or a promised “someday” is another story. But today’s point is that children and beginners need to be encouraged to create things. No matter how uneven, clumsy, and poor their initial (and subsequent) works may be.
Needlework is especially worth encouraging — not only as a nearly lost art, but as a practical life skill; the number of persons who cannot even replace a button or repair a separating seam is astonishing.
To help foster a young child’s interest in ans mastery of needlework, check out Easy Hand Sewing for Kids. Heck, if you don’t consider yourself a child but your stitches are childish, check out that article (and the slew of resources within it). It’s never too late to learn.
And, as far as I can see, it’s never too late to give an old lady her comeuppance.
Vintage animal buttons via Prestige-Enterprises.
Vintage iron-on transfer of baby animals via Blondies-Spot.