The gift of self-reliance, stitch by stitch

My 10-year-old daughter just presented my husband and me with a Christmas wish list in the form of a letter:

Dear Mom and/or Dad,

Please, please, please get me a sewing kit for Christmas. I dearly want a junior one and I really want to learn how to sew like you, mom. Or get me something electronic. Like I’ve told you, most people (like, literally 8/9) have cell phones.  … Really those are the two most parent-acceptable things that I want.

Oh, no offense, but I secretly am getting tired of getting so many books for birthdays or Christmas! Just get me one or two! I do like to read, but I have plenty of books. I SAID no offense! …

Your Hopefully Humorously persuasive Daughter

After having a good laugh at the assertion that eight out of nine of her fifth-grade classmates have cell phones (maybe they’re all carrying their parents’ discarded models that are no longer attached to a plan), I was charmed that her first request was for a “sewing kit.” (After all, I spend plenty of time on my iPad and not much at the sewing machine, so this is not due to my stellar example.) I suspect it was because I gave her an impromptu sewing lesson while hastily making a last-minute-panic costume the night before Halloween, after I remembered that my kids needed costumes in the morning for school, not just for trick-or-treating.

When I was in elementary school, sewing was a way for my mother to clothe her four children inexpensively on a tight budget. She taught me the fundamentals of sewing so I could make my own doll clothes. Buying doll clothes was out of the question, and this way I could use the scraps left from her sewing.

But thanks to today’s relatively inexpensive, mass-produced clothes from China (among other factors), we don’t hear much anymore about sewing as a way for the average family to save money. It’s more of a specialty skill now, a way to get the fit you want, or to make higher-quality clothes than you’ll find in most stores, or to ensure that you won’t bump into someone else wearing “your” outfit at a Christmas party.

I haven’t done any “real” sewing for years. Those skills learned at my mom’s side (and, later, in more formal classes) do come in handy, though – hemming pants, fixing ripped seams, making slight alterations to improve the fit of a store-bought garment — not to mention that last-minute costume made late Sunday night! Knowing how to do those things still can save some money, save time (on the quick fixes, anyway, as opposed to using a tailor), impress your fifth-grader, and offer a sense of self-reliance and satisfaction.

There are enough Utahns who sew to keep a number of fabric stores in business here. If you’re curious, visit one of the shops. In my experience, most of these specialty fabric stores have knowledgeable employees who are happy to offer guidance to the beginning or lapsed sewer or point you (or your child) toward formal sewing lessons. There are far more sewing resources today than when I was growing up. You can find sewing lessons online for either hand or machine sewing. And you can buy a basic sewing machine for less than $100, if you don’t already have your grandma’s old machine in the basement.

And despite my bookworm’s odd request for fewer books, her Christmas gift is likely to include a sewing book for beginners. But I won’t throw some sewing supplies at her and hope she figures it out. I’ll be a hands-on teacher, and maybe that’s the gift she’ll need the most.