Sew many mentors

ChicagoNow is once again having a blogapalooza, where we get an hour to write on an assigned topic. Tonight's topic is the following.

"Write about a time you helped someone, or a time that you received help."

This topic is almost too easy because in my life I have been very fortunate to receive help at every stage. Perfect strangers have picked me up when I have fallen or had accidents. Friends have cooked for me and given me shoulders to cry on while they hugged me. I have learned, grown and become the person I am because of other people's assistance and guidance and nowhere is that more true than in sewing. Without my mentors, I would be sew lost!

My first and most important sewing mentor was my 8th grade Home Ec teacher whose class I ended up in via a roundabout path. I was not originally scheduled to be in Home Ec when I started Jr. High, I was put in the Honors French class which meant I only got 20 minutes of the specials classes twice a week. French class had all the smart kids in there and I liked the prestige of it. But the teacher had a few hours of college French class and was clearly in over her head. Most of the time the class plotted goofy tricks to play on her.

The Art teacher was a master teacher and made art come alive for me. I went home and begged my parents to let me drop French class so I could be in Art for a full period each day. Surprisingly they let me and this teacher made me see the world in a whole different way. And the French turned out OK also, I started Spanish in High School plus took French and ended up becoming a Spanish and French teacher. Sometimes the timing and the teacher is what matters, mais oui!

8th grade I was now in a full period of Home Ec, an unforeseen consequence of dropping French. I was shocked how much fabric spoke to me. From the moment I picked out my first project, I knew this ST-316.1Lwas for me. Mrs. Parrish let me make a dress with kimono sleeves instead of the assigned project. I finished it almost immediately and made myself a pink and white pegnoir set. Gingham. Yes, I think it is pretty odd also. Katherine Hepburn meets Daisy May. But I digress.  My Mother was so thrilled that she had me make a blue and white set for my aunt who had just had surgery. The rest of the class was still making the requisite easy apron and I was having the time of my

I imagine everyone else in there would have hated me had I not been a dud in the cooking section of the class. See, things have a way of balancing out! By the end of the school year, I knew I would never be a chef but I was hooked on sewing.

My teacher, Mrs. Parrish, lived around the corner from me and she casually mentioned that I could come over during the summer if I needed help. What an amazing gift to give someone and there was nothing in it for her, no money and no fame. I went there and learned how to match plaids, set in sleeves, attach cuffs and make button holes. If my Mom would buy the pattern and fabric, Mrs. Parrish taught me how to do it.

To me it was the perfect summer. I wonder if she was afraid I would be hanging around her back door forever. Wise woman that she was she approached the situation head one. As Freshman year began, she was smart enough to tell me that I was set, I didn't need her anymore. I missed her and still wanted more help! I was in the college prep classes so there was no room in my schedule for any more home ec classes and that was that.

Lucky for me, I found my second mentor. I was a drama geek and Jr. year a new director was hired for the plays.  His wife, Ferbie, sewed like a dream. She made all the costumes for the plays. She could sew bustles, ruffles and period clothing. I asked her if I could make my costume and if she would help me. She generously agreed even though I am sure it would have been easier for her to just do it herself.

I learned how to make pleats, French seams and pin tucks. Mrs. Parrish gave me the base and the confidence. Ferbie put the finishing touches on and taught me to fly with my sewing, to be willing to tackle anything.  If at this point you are probably thinking, "Wow Kathy, you were kind of a nerd in High School." The answer to that would be no, there was no kind of about it, I was a complete nerd. And maybe an overly confident one.

The summer after Sr. year I didn't have a job lined up so I advertised in the paper that I would sew for money. Can you imagine the innocent audacity of that ad?  I was making ties that my father was selling at his office, hey, I was ready to to pro. That is when my final sewing mentor stepped in.  My 7th grade social studies teacher called me and commissioned a dress.

Making that dress for her was a complete and total pain. She was demanding, she complained, she whined and she had me resew until I just called it a day. I think I got my expenses for the fabric from her and I learned that a hobby is a place in your life for joy. For me, trying to make my hobby a job sucked all the pleasure out of it. So for all these years, it has been my refuge, not my living.

I am so grateful to the Art teacher who opened my eyes so I could see the world as the work of art and color that it is.  That vision is what I now try to put in my quilts. I am beholden to my Home Ec teacher who gave freely of her time and expertise to turn a beginning sewer into a confident seamstress. I owe my director's wife the finesse and top skills that allowed me to believe I could make anything. And I am glad for that picky first client who by never being happy with the dress taught me to keep my sewing as a source of happiness not income.

This nerd is pretty lucky that she had sew many mentors. Ladies, this stitch is for you!

Sew Happy!

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    Kathy Mathews

    My passions are quilting and sewing. Add to that French, Spanish, books, swimming, travels, new restaurants, yoga and chocolate and you have me. All of these are best shared with family and friends. Except for chocolate, don't touch my chocolate. You can email me at

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