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What My Dad Taught Me About Sewing

By far, most of what I know about sewing I learned from my mom. She taught me when I was young and guided me through many projects. I'm like her in many ways. But, as I get older I find that I share many personality qualities with my dad. As anyone who "turns into their parent" will say, some of these qualities I'm happy to have and some, well, a little less so.

As I've been reflecting on this lately, I've noticed that many of the ways I'm similar to him show up in my sewing - both the process and the products. Here are the ones I notice most frequently...

1. Respect tools. 
My dad had an enviable shop at home. Maybe I should say "shops" - a wood shop and a metal shop. These shops were organized and well-equipped. Tools hung on pegs on the walls and then they were outlined in marker, so that there was no confusion at all about what went where. Using a tool was not something that you did without permission. Permission was usually granted but not without a "What do you need it for?" followed by a "Make sure you put it back." It makes sense to me because he used quality tools and it's so irritating to not be able to find the tool you need when you need it.

Part of me really wants to cover one wall of my sewing room with pegboard and hooks and outline all my tools on it. Seems like a brilliant way to have everything handy and organized. Currently my tools do each have their place and I don't let them wander far from it.  My mom graciously shared her sewing tools with me for years, but I think I'm going to struggle with this if my kids want to use my sewing room. They already know not to use anything from the sewing room without permission first and I can hear my dad in my tone of voice when I ask them "what do you need it for?"

Quilting Cottons Organized

2.  If it's worth doing, do it well.
I was an RA during college. To promote community, we encouraged people to keep their suite doors open. I wanted to make this as easy as possible for them, so I asked my dad if he could make door stops for me to  distribute to the girls on my floor. I thought this would be really simple - done with some scraps in a few minutes. My dad was willing to help, but he first wanted to know exactly what I wanted and asked me to draw a diagram with dimensions and everything. I was a little perplexed. It's just a little wedge to jam under a door! Why do you need a blueprint? But, that was how he worked, so I complied. And he came through with a box full of perfectly consistent hardwood doorstops. They were all sanded and beautiful. I was afraid to give them out because the girls wouldn't give them the respect they deserved.

Ottobre 1/2011 Denim Skirt

I have a hard time doing quick, sloppy sewing. Certainly there is room for growth in my sewing skills, but I'm well past the point of just wanting to get something done. I think this is why I really don't enjoy sewing costumes. They aren't worn much, so they aren't worth the time, but if something isn't worth investing time in, then I don't want to sew it. From time to time, this quality does mean that I get paralyzed with perfectionism and sometimes knowing that I won't be able to do something as well as I'd like prevents me from even trying. I try to keep it all in balance - aim for quality, but also be satisfied with my personal best.

2009-08-24 sport shirt 011

3.  When you find something that works, repeat it often and without apology.
I remember giving my dad a hard time about his "wardrobe." He very consistently wore khaki pants of various shades with a striped sport shirt - whatever colored stripes, but usually on a light background. When I'd scoff at his "boring" clothes, he was unapologetic and didn't seem to feel the need to justify his choices to me (much to my teenage surprise!).

Ottobre 1/2010 #24

While my wardrobe isn't nearly so consistent as his was, I operate much the same way. I don't have a huge pattern stash because I prefer to stick with a smaller number of tried-and-true ones. Some sewists only use a pattern once and are always ready to try the next new thing. That's not my style. If I like a pattern, I use it multiple times - sometimes changing the details of it, sometimes not. Now I'm grown-up enough to know that my clothes are really mostly for me, so what do I care if someone else thinks that's a boring way to sew/dress?!?

McCall's 3830

4. Finish what you start.
My family had a boat while I was growing up. Many summer Saturdays were spent enjoying lakes and waterskiing. When we'd get back home, the kids would try to pile out of the van and into the house, moving on to the next thing. We'd hear "Whoa, whoa, whoa, we're not done here." Then we'd be reminded of all the things that needed to be taken care of or put away before we were free to move on.

Owls sweater

It's good to fully complete a task. I'm quite consistent about this within the sewing room (won't say much about outside of the sewing room - could use a little growth there). I like to work on one thing at a time. I don't really do UFO's (unfinished objects). I'm fairly careful and calculated about projects that I start and that usually means I want to finish them. Does everything turn out successful? Absolutely not. But, I find great satisfaction in finishing something completely.

The Big One - Finished

My dad passed away a little over 12 years ago. Many of the things I've learned from him are still sinking in, I think. He was a great dad and I'll always be grateful for his influence and my heritage. Sometimes I finish a project and wish that I could show it to him. I'm confident that I'll get to again someday. Heaven wouldn't be heaven without fabric and sewing machines, right?


  1. What a great post, and timely on Fathers Day here in the UK. Your DAd sounded like a lovely man and it's great his values have rubbed off on you. Look after those tools!

  2. Wow, your Dad sounds like he was a wonderful Man. And despite him being gone it's so wonderful that he continues to inspire you. I loss my Dad 3 years ago and he also greatly inspired me. I look forward to seeing him in Heaven too:)

  3. and there'll be no seam rippers in heaven! Great post!


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