One of the greatest bonds that held our family together was found in the corner of our dining room. In a small container that held thread, needles, scissors and a couple of thimbles that sat upon my mom’s Singer sewing machine. These were a large part of moms tools of her trade for the business of keeping us all clothed. It is safe to say that mom and her needle and thread was woven into our lives.
My mom was good with a needle and for her family this was a good thing. In the years I was growing up and on into my adult years her talent was well received. Throughout moms life the woman of the house developed a skill that was learned for two reasons I think. Number one was if your clothes or socks became torn or worn the answer as what to do wasn’t to run to the store for a new pair. No we took the clothes and socks to mom. She knew very well how to mend and darn. The second reason for learning how to sew was because mom enjoyed sewing.
Mom became good at making quilts and enjoyed doing so. She also learned how to crochet and from time to time she would make a table cloth or a doily or two to go on end tables. She really enjoyed being talented enough to create as I feel we all do in any way we can find to display our talent. But mom had the first obligation and that was to mend the families clothes that had become torn, or lost a button or darn the socks that had worn holes in them. This was a chore that didn’t pass by in a brief time as there were five of us. I know mom would try to sort the damaged items out in the dirty clothes and then wash them in a separate load so when they had dried she would take that load to the living room in the evenings and as she watched television with the family she also mended items and would return them to the useable pile. A couple of times a month she would bring the darning thread and needle along with a light bulb to the living room. These were the nights she would darn all the socks with holes in them. In those days when the socks mostly were made of cotton darning could be done. The synthetics used in socks today won’t hold the darn in place. When a person is darning you are actually sewing from side to side and then a cross pattern over the hole until a new place has been made to replace what had worn away.
I have watched mom save back the jobs that were really too big to do by hand and then take a seat in front of her trusty Singer sewing machine. Once she got the sewing machine going and her sewing rhythm in tune with her singing or humming she would blast thru a good size pile of repairing. Once all the repairing was thru mom would pull out the material she had for quilt making and sew together quilt patches she had predesigned to be her newest quilts pattern and this she did with speed a smile and some good ole singing of a hymn. Mom had a song for just about every chore she had to do. She said it made the work go faster and made it more enjoyable. (I never was 100 per cent sold on the more enjoyable part.)
Mom and dad were I feel like all other families of the time and a family that worked with a solid budget always seemed to have a little more at the end of the year. Dad was a good manager of our farm and keeping expenses in line. But as for my mom, she was special as she spent all her time saving and stretching. Truth is I seldom see a person that fits her rank of frugal. (She pinched Abe Lincoln until he squealed.) One major area was how long she could keep us in the same outfits of clothes. Only thing that messed with her plan was when we out grew something. A homemaker of that era wouldn’t be caught dead without her sewing bag and sewing machine. There are still some good seamstresses today but I feel safe in saying a lot fewer are around. Things have changed and buying a new shirt or pair of jeans is so simple to do and based on the time a housewife has today has changed that purchase to more than reasonable. In the days past the process of buying new clothes usually involved the Sears Roebuck or Montgomery Ward catalogs. After mom measuring what size fit there was the next step was of the cost. Did it fit? If so the order was placed and why in no time at all (six weeks delivery) the order would arrive. In the meantime you better hope and pray that mom and thread would keep the clothes you had holding together.
I recall that shortly after I started going to school the jeans manufacturer had invented a patch that could be bought that would fit over a hole in your knee. It came in a pack of six and must have been low in cost as mom never thought twice about buying them She claimed that I was so ruff on my jeans and wore the knees out so often that if she hadn’t got these she would never get done mending my jeans so she could mend all the others I really feel she might have execrated about this but it did seem I was in her presence asking if she could fix my knees a lot. It also might be safe to say that the sewing machines have become as scarce as our irons and ironing boards these days.
The bottom line is we would have never survived in that time and a good needle and thread are still not such a bad set of items to have in the house. But there is one thing I will end with. That is when you see a quilt that someone has done by hand you are looking at one of the purest art forms there is. Also when you look at that quilt remember that whoever made that quilt can darn well sew, mend and darn and there is a family that has good fortune in their home!
Rick Houser grew up on a farm near Moscow in Clermont County and loves to share stories about his youth and other topics. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.