Female War Pilot Turns 100

Imagine, Mary Ellis and those young women like her who flew Spitfires during World War ll actually helped in the war effort by flying routine missions, freeing up male pilots for war missions and combat. I love the photo of her with the present day Spitfire pilot. What a living history lesson she is!

Blast from the Past: Using Quilts in Homeschooling

An Amish Pieced & Quilted Cotton Coverlet, Indiana or Ohio, Circa 1910
An Amish Pieced & Quilted Cotton Coverlet, Indiana or Ohio, Circa 1910

When I was in college, I bought an old sofa for my dorm room for $10. It was so ugly, it needed a covering, so I took fabric scraps left over from clothes I’d made and pieced a quilt to throw over it. After that, I was hooked on quilting.

At that time, quilting was mostly something you did with scraps. But it soon blossomed into a huge industry, with fabrics designed specifically for quilters and an explosion of shops to promote those fabrics. Since then, most quilts begin when the quilter purposely buys fabric to make a quilt. You can easily spend a few hundred dollars doing so.

But that’s the pricey way to make a quilt. Making a quilt from scraps is still an inexpensive way to have fun while making something useful. This is what our foremothers did during the Great Depression, when money was tight and re-using things was the wisest thing you could do.

For homeschoolers, learning about quilting is a way to study both history and math. The math part is best learned by doing: calculating the size of the blocks of your quilt and the most efficient way to cut each piece of fabric can challenge the math skills of adults, much less kids. Even if you use a pattern, there will be some calculations involved.

And who knew there were quilt math books for kids? Wish they’d been around when my kids were younger!

Studying the historical aspects of quilting can be a lot of fun. Quilting is an integral part of American history. The different patterns and fabrics used help researchers determine the age of an antique quilt, and quilt historians are almost like detectives as they research the background of a given quilt.

The patterns used to make quilts are a major clue to their histories. Long before there were quilt magazines, patterns were passed between quilters of a given time period. Here’s a link to many patterns popular in recent American history.

The fabrics used over time have very distinctive looks. Today, textile companies reproduce such fabrics for quilters who want to make new quilts that look historically accurate for a given time period. Looking at such fabrics give you an idea of what kind of fabrics people used for clothing in that time period. Here’s one site with a group of links for fabrics of different time periods.

The 1930s were particularly good years for quilts because the financial difficulties of the times forced people to be very creative with the materials on hand. As a result, many quilters created incredible quilts. The World’s Fair of 1933 included a quilt contest sponsored by Sears. It received thousands of entries. See some of the best of these quilts here (scroll to the very bottom of the page and click on thumbnails.

There was a resurgence of quilting in the mid-1970s as the U.S. Bicentennial approached. Bicentennial quilts became all the rage. Since then, quilting has remained quite popular.

One of the best ways to learn about history through quilts is to visit a museum that displays them. Many history museums do show a few quilts along with other artifacts, but to see a wide variety of them, you need to go to a quilt museum. Perhaps the best-known in the country is the Museum of the American Quilter’s Society in Paducah, Kentucky.

You can also “tour” quilt museums while online. Here’s a page of links to such museums. While there’s nothing like seeing a quilt in person, this is the next best thing to being there.

Ready to make a quilt with your kids as a homeschooling project? If you already know how to sew, you’ll find it to be quite easy. Quilts can be hand-sewn, machine-sewn, or made with a mix of both techniques.

There are great how-to-quilt books at your local library. You can also find a friend who can teach you or take a class at a local quilt shop. You can also learn from online tutorials. You’ll find many web pages with basic quilting information like this one. Also, here’s the first of a thirteen-part series by expertvillage on how to make a baby quilt as a first quilting project.

It’s fun to quilt with your children, and who knows? It could become a lifelong hobby for you and for them.

(Originally posted 2/9/09.)

Blast from the Past: The Easiest Way to Learn to Make Clothes

My first sewing project was a jumper I made for myself (I was 12). It was quite the learning experience, but I did not immediately follow it up with more clothing for me. Instead, I began making doll clothes for my sisters and myself.

I did this because we couldn’t afford to buy doll clothes in the store. But I soon discovered that it was a lot of fun to make my own color choices using remnants I got from relatives or marked down at the fabric store.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that using patterns to make doll clothes helps you become good at clothing construction without the costly mistakes involved in making people-sized clothes.

For example, if you cut a sleeve out wrong for a doll, or mess up big-time while sewing the sleeve, you can just cut a new one out of another scrap of fabric and try again. But if you do that while making yourself a shirt or a dress, you’ll probably have to go back and buy more fabric (if you can find more of it) to cut out another sleeve. This costs time and money.

Sewing doll clothes also helps you learn how the pieces go together in clothing construction much sooner than if you’re sewing people clothes. This learning happens faster because the project comes together more quickly, being smaller.

After you’ve sewn a lot of doll clothes and really understand how bodices work (and sleeves, pants, etc.), sewing people-sized clothes is actually quite easy. I thought it was easier than making doll clothes, actually, because after working with such tiny pieces, sewing large pieces seemed so simple.

(Originally posted 2/2/09.)

Blast from the Past: Make Sewing Part of Homeschooling

 The Sewing Class by Carl Frederick Aagaard
The Sewing Class

Many homeschooling moms want their children to learn to sew, but they can’t teach them because they themselves don’t know how to sew.

Yes, you can all learn together, but I think the process will go easier if Mom learns first!

There are several steps involved in learning how to sew. First, you need to learn to sew by hand. Stitching on a button by hand is easier for me than setting up the sewing machine, so I’m glad I can sew by hand. I was taught by my mother and grandmother. If you have neither of those, or (more likely) they don’t know how to sew by hand, you might want to inquire at your local fabric store to see if they offer lessons. Another good way is to find an online instructional video, like this one.

Next, you need to know how to use a sewing machine. Once again, you can ask a relative or a friend. My father actually taught me how to use a sewing machine. Being a mechanic, he could figure out any machine pretty quickly. And since he restored cars as a hobby, he had an old industrial sewing machine in his workshop that he used to make new roofs and seats for antique automobiles.

If you buy a sewing machine from a reputable dealer, free sewing machine lessons should be included in the deal. This is the best way to learn, because you’ll learn about your particular machine. This is important. The main reason people give up on sewing is that they get fed up fighting with their machine and trying to figure out why it isn’t working the way it’s supposed to work. It takes time to learn the idiosyncrasies of a given machine, but lessons from the place where you bought it can shorten that learning time.

Finally, you need to learn about using patterns and fabric. I learned from a sewing class I took at my local park district, and followed that up with Home Ec in junior high. (They don’t even offer sewing in most schools these days—what a shame!) Today, there may be classes at your local fabric, craft or quilt shop. You can also ask a friend who sews to teach you. You might even barter one of your skills for sewing lessons from someone you know in your neighborhood, church or social group.

The price of clothes has been cheap, relatively speaking, for the past several years. But as the standard of living in countries that manufacture those clothes rises, the prices will go up. Learning how to make and repair clothing is a skill that you’ll be glad to have in the future. Your kids may need that skill, too….learn to sew, then teach your children. Make sewing lessons part of your homeschooling routine, and you won’t be sorry!

(Originally posted 1/30/09.)

Blast from the Past: Frugal Tools: Sewing Machines

 

In Stitches by Susan Eby Glass
In Stitches

Being able to use a sewing machine is such a gift. I learned to sew at the age of 12, and I can’t even imagine how much money it has saved me over my lifetime. I’ve made my own clothes as well as clothes for others. I have no idea how many window treatments I’ve made over the years.

Being a quilter, I’ve made dozens of quilt tops, including many that went to poor families in other countries after the ladies at my church and I added batting and backing to them, so I don’t even know where they are now.

It frustrates me when someone says, “I wish I could sew, but I can’t.” That’s just an excuse. Sewing is as easy as driving, and a lot safer.

Once you know how to use a sewing machine, you can save all sorts of money. We live in a society where most people pitch things and buy new instead of fixing what they have, but I think taking care of what you have is going to come back into style by necessity before much longer.

Think about your bath towels. You know how one side will come loose and get stringy? And then the strings get caught in the washer, which makes the situation worse? If you have a sewing machine, you can hem that side as soon as it starts to come apart so that your towels stay nice and you don’t have to replace them. All that takes is a straight seam…no big deal. But it saves money, because new towels aren’t cheap (at least they aren’t if you like them nice and thick like we do!)

What about hems that come apart on shirts or dresses? It’ll take longer to set up your machine than to sew a hem back up. My son is short, and even the shortest men’s jeans are long on him, so eventually the hems become frayed. My daughter can trim them and sew them pretty quickly on her sewing machine (a job that would take too long by hand and wouldn’t hold up nearly as well either).

Sometimes I use my sewing machine to make one thing into another. A while back I was out shopping and saw a set of three linen dishtowels on clearance for $4. One of the towels was striped, and the other two were in a coordinating print that really caught my eye. I have a pillow at home that had faded quite a bit, and I decided I’d like a new pillow out of those dishtowels, which I bought. I made a nice pillow cover out of the two matching ones, and use the striped one in my kitchen. My newly recovered pillow looks so pretty! Not bad for approximately $2.66 plus tax, and it’s very sturdy because dishtowels are made to get a lot of use.

I’m carrying on the “remaking” tradition from my grandmother, who was a single mom of four small children during the Great Depression. People sometimes gave her hand-me-downs, and she found that when she was given coats, they were women’s coats, not children’s coats, perhaps because the children had worn out their coats while the women took care of theirs.

In any case, she needed coats for her growing children much more than she needed coats for herself, so she accepted every woman’s coat she was offered, cut apart the pieces, and then laid out pattern pieces for kids’ coats on the cut-up coat pieces. She cut them out and sewed them together. In this way, her kids were always kept warm in nice, “new” coats and the only cost to her was her time.

(Once you’ve remade things a few times, it’s funny how you look at everything with an eye to how you could use it to make something. My grandma never did shake the remaking habit. By the time she was a great-grandma, she had begun buying up all the 1970s polyester pants she could find at garage sales and thrift stores. She cut them into strips and wove them into braided rugs. Let me tell you, they are indestructible. We have two that she made for us in the 1980s and they’re still holding up well.)

(Originally posted 1/28/09.)