Thursday, September 20, 2012


Last night I spent some time in my sewing room (aka the treehouse).  It's a wonderful room, more than I ever dreamed I'd have, especially back when I was sewing everything from my babies' terry cloth sleepers, to my husband's work jeans, to a play teepee for the pre-school.  I did all of that sewing on the dining room table. At this point in life, I have no little ones underfoot, and I have a beautiful, tucked away room, with wonderful equipment.

As one thought leads to another, I found myself thinking about the very first thing I ever sewed for myself.  I'd been pestering my mom to teach me to sew for quite some time - even though she had no sewing machine, and she didn't sew for us.  I don't know where I got such an urge to make my own clothing.  Mom agreed to borrow a sewing machine from my uncle (it had been their mother's - it was an old Singer treadle machine that had been electrified). Then she took me shopping for pattern, fabric, and notions.

In the early 60s, we didn't have big shopping malls in all the suburbs, but there were little shopping strips clustered here and there.  The one nearest our house was called Robbin Center.  Besides the drug store, hardware store, dress shops and shoe shops, there was a little department store called S&L.  I'm fairly certain it wasn't a chain - just a little, stand alone department store.  My mom took me there to choose a pattern, fabric, buttons, and thread.  The pattern was for a sleeveless "shift" that buttoned down the front, and I was in love with the fabric - a quality cotton, in a geometric print of blues and greens.  The fabric was beautiful and affordable, and the clerk reinforced what my mother was trying to show me about the print lining up on the grain of the fabric.

Now, this is where my brain took off in a whole new direction - the ability to go to a little department store in one's own neighborhood and get everything you need to make a dress.  There were choices of thread and buttons and drawers filled with patterns in that one little store, and you can be certain it was like that in lots of other neighborhoods, as well.  When I got into junior high, I was allowed to take a bus downtown, and every department store (Dayton's, Powers, Penney's, Donaldson's) had a fabric and sewing department, plus there were two stand-alone fabric stores I knew of - two entire stories each, of just fabrics, trims, patterns, and notions.  Whether one went to department stores or the stand alones, there were knowledgeable sales clerks, and the quality and selection of fabrics was good.  And the notions!  Walls filled with cards of buttons, zippers in every length and color imaginable, threads in an abundance of colors and weights.

I can't quite figure out what happened - now, though I have many fine quality fabrics in the treehouse, most of them were purchased online, or in the two far-flung quilt shops I've found since moving here, neither of which is in the neighborhood.  There's a remodeled Joann's Fabrics about 10 miles away, but since the remodel, it is filled with scrapbook papers, glue, and artificial flowers.  The fabric section is reduced in size, and the quality and consistency of fabrics has diminished steadily. 

I've read online that some folks have battled - and won - to keep the fabric section at their local Walmart.  It just seems so sad that one has to battle to have a place to buy simple needle and thread, where if you are lucky enough to find a fabric you can use, you have to ring a bell, or stand in line, and practically beg the person to lop of a chunk of fabric for you.  For those who didn't keep that section, where do they buy needle and thread to sew a button back on their jacket?

That first shift dress was worn until I grew too tall to wear it decently.  My next dress was a "princess style" with seaming up the front, sewn in a lavender linen blend.  Walking down the rows of fabric in S&L, all I had to do was touch that fabric and feel how it draped to know it was the one for me - too bad the helpful clerk that checked the grain didn't tell me that lavender isn't my color!


Shashi Nayagam said...

Sue isn't it sad that all these stores are downsizing or closing the sewing sections. It has already happened here. The only store that used to carry some good stuff has now reduced that section into a small corner. It is sad. Your tree house is so organised will you come and organise me ? Lol.

Pam said...

I also remember learning to sew from my mom and shopping for fabric at the dept store. I had forgotten that. It was not a fabric store just a section in the store. They are good memories. It is sad how those sections are disappearing.