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When Mom Teaches You to Sew

When Mom Teaches You to Sew

Written by: 
Linzee McCray

Some mom's sew, some don't. And some that do pass that skill along to their progeny. With a nod to Mother's Day on Sunday,  Moda designers share their stories of sewing and their moms.

Jane Davidson and her mother Rhonda in 1964


Jane Davidson (AKA Quilt Jane)

My mum never had a moment to herself, Rhonda had 5 girls in the space of 7 1/2 years, We always had fresh-cooked meals, cakes, and slices and handmade clothes and plenty of love. In some of the photos my oldest sister sent me, we look like the Von Trapp family in their bedroom curtains! While I never sat down with mum and made clothes I watched her closely and through osmosis found a deep love for making things. I started with hand sewing dolls and dresses and graduated on to the old Singer sewing machine to pursue my passion for sewing and crafts.

Four of the five sisters in their clothes made by their mum (1971)

Sherri McConnell

I was blessed to be taught a variety of sewing and quilting skills by several women in my family. From the time I was a young girl I observed my mother, grandmother, aunt, and great-grandmother making things for others. My Mom signed me up for sewing lessons at our local Singer Sewing Machine shop when I was ten and gave me a sewing machine at that time to keep in my room. I did a lot of clothes sewing throughout high school, making a majority of my dresses, formal wear, and even my wedding dress. As a young mother, my aunt would often gift me with a creative class to take with her...I have several lovely needlework projects in my home because of those wonderful experiences.

Blocks made by Sherri's great-great-grandmother and set together and quilted by her grandmother..."My most prized quilt possession."

My grandmother began quilting when quilting came back into fashion in the 1970's, and became quite accomplished, often winning ribbons for her hand-quilted and machine-pieced quilts at her quilt guild. In about 1993 I asked her to make a twin-sized quilt for my oldest, and she said "no." She did, however, offer to teach me so that I could make the twin-sized quilt, and the rest, as they say, is history. I'm forever grateful to my Mom, my aunt, andespecially my maternal grandmother for instilling in me a love of thecreative arts and quilting.

April Rosenthal

My Mama taught me to sew from the time I could pick up a needle. First it was yarn and plastic canvas, then prequilted fabric and a needle and thread. I worked and practiced and tried to prove I was responsible enough with her tools so that one day she would let me try on her real, live sewing machine! She got a brand new Bernina 930 when I was 5 or 6, and I had to wait until I was 8 years old to use it :) Mom taught me that having a quality machine and tools makes all the difference when it comes to enjoying the process. If your tools aren't in good shape, you're going to have a miserable time sewing, no matter how excited you are to work on a project!

Gina Martin

Two (out of many) of the things my mom taught me about sewing were to not be afraid of the machine and to consider using alternate fabrics when money is tight. I remember her making pinch pleated drapes for a wall of windows out of burlap and a cocktail dress out of drapery fabric. She’s always been resourceful!

Top: Gina at age 9 with her first sewing machine. Bottom: Gina's mom Gale, on the treadle machine that Gina soon moved to. "I loved learning on that machine. It was a workhorse!"

Vanessa Goertzen

One of the best gifts my mother gave me was her “hands-off” approach when I made my first  quilt. Of course, she was there if I needed help—but I was largely unsupervised, having a great time just playing. Looking back now, my first quilt has plenty of flaws, but if my mother had made me pick out stitches, I never would have finished or wanted to make another.

Vanessa and her Mom


Debbie Maddy

My mother’s name was Mervine Reed. She was not a quilter and hated hand work but she was a fantastic garment sewer and home dec sewer. She owned a drapery and upholstery shop for years. The main thing she taught me about sewing was to take your time and the inside of a garment should be as nice as the outside.


Bonnie Olaveson 

I am so grateful for my Mom and grateful she taught me how to sew when I was 6. This picture was taken last year. She is almost 92, still piecing and hand quilting quilts.  We both agree that sewing has been our saving grace and helped us get through difficult challenges and believe me, my Mom has been through many. Her name is Phyllis Moss and her positive attitude and beautiful example are such a blessing to me and to our family. 


Sandy Gervais

As a very small child—before I was old enough to handle scissors—I would sit on a chair by my mother at the sewing machine and watch her sew. I would make a game out of guessing where the little screw on the wheel would be when the wheel stopped turning. My mother sewed all of her clothes and all of mine and my two sister's clothes, so I spent a lot of time sitting by her side. Really I think I learned to sew by watching her. I don't really remember her teaching me step by step instructions.

I knew all about the importance of straight of the grain, clipping curves and grading seams before I began sewing just by watching her sew all of those years. I made my first sewing project at the age of 8. It was a turquoise gathered skirt and a simple no collar top. I made it as my entry in the beginner clothing division at the Jackson County Fair. I received a blue ribbon. I grew up on a farm in Minnesota just a half mile from the Iowa border.

In this photo, Sandy is on right with glasses and 9 years old. "My mother made all of our dresses and hers too. My older sister's and my dress were made out of organza – ITCHY fabric and also a very difficult fabric to sew. My mother was a very good seamstress!" The coloring is really bad on the picture – mine was a very pretty mint green, my older sisters was lavender and baby sisters was white.

Betsy Chutchian

My Mom did not sew. She didn’t like anything about it. She had a sewing basket with a pincushion, a couple of needles, pins saved from a purchased folded shirt, and random spools of thread. My grandmother sewed, so I’m sure she told mom that she had to have one. I can’t remember her even sewing on a button.

My mom loved to cook. She was a great cook, and she made everything from scratch and never grocery shopped from a list, nor a meal plan. She had a fully stocked pantry, at all time so that at anytime during  her day, she could bake a cake, cookies, make a pie, or make dinner from whatever was on hand.That’s exactly how stock my pantry and cook.

The composite shows Betsy's mom later in life, as a teenager, with Betsy and her daughter in 2000, and then when Betsy was little, probably 1958, or so. "I think I’m 3 years old in the photo."

I’ve applied the well-stocked pantry theory to my quilting life. I’ve always bought fabrics I liked, not per project, varying quantities, so that as an idea pops in my head for a scrappy quilt, I’m ready. I arrange my fabrics by color, so I can easily see, which one is low.


I begged for my grandmother ‘s treadle when she died in 1968 (also begged for her upright piano.) I got neither. My parents said I would never practice or use either one. In junior high, a couple of years later, I finally sewed in Homemaking class and have never stopped. Mom’s sister, my aunt Sissy gave me her 1940’s singer to use during high school. I still have that machine, and pieced a number of quilts on it.

Whenever I’m asked how much fabric to buy, I tell this story, and suggest a well-stocked pantry. Thanks Mom!

Barb Groves (Me and My Sister Designs)

This is a curler bag that my Mom made me … probably in the 60’s! It held those old pink sponge curlers and I loved it! I’ve saved it for years. I was so excited that my Mom made it for me that I couldn’t part with it. 
She made it from an old Clorox bottle. Not sure where she got the idea but I thought it was the most creative thing I’d ever seen. She sewed it on her old Kenmore sewing machine. I loved watching her sew! She never quilted but did other fun things like this.
I think this is where our creativity and love of fabric started.
It’s starting to look like an antique now but at one time it was fresh and new. Even though It’s no longer filled with pink sponge rollers it still special.

Linzee McCray

Though she never quilted, my mom engaged in just about every other form of needlework, from sewing beautifully tailored garments to upholstering furniture to smocking dresses for her granddaughters. She made numerous outfits for my sisters and I and because she grew up during the Depression she didn’t throw things away—her sewing room still has scraps from outfits she made us more than four decades ago and I’ll occasionally use some of them in my quilts.

The madras plaid in the second "row" down, near the center, is a piece from a sleeveless play top Linzee's mom made for her more than four decades ago. A few bits of the fabric were still saved in her mom's sewing room, so Linzee added it to her scrappy quilt.

While my mom taught me to sew, I didn’t always take well to her instruction. She’s very exacting and I’m more of a slap-dash gal. Home ec classes in junior high school helped me learn techniques sans the mother-daughter clashes that occasionally ensued. When I was in late elementary school and she bought me a Singer treadle machine for $10 at a yard sale and I was free to fiddle with it to my heart’s content (and leave her fancy German (Necchi) machine alone).

Linzee's mom Sally sewing in 2015, at age 86.


As I’ve gotten older I’ve gained in appreciation for her tidy ways and she’s admired my quilting. She hasn’t sewn for a few years, but still loves fabric and seeing what I’m working on. I’m so grateful to her for filling our home with beautiful fabrics and instilling in me a love of textiles.

How about you? Did your mom teach you to sew? We'd love to hear about it!



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