Sewing Skills Connect Local Culture, Local History, and Self-Sufficiency

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Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Learning to sew allows children is discover a new creative medium and can lead to studies of local history and local culture!

While factory-made garments have largely replaced hand-sewn clothes, the ability to sew remains a valuable skill. For children, learning to sew can present opportunities not only to learn a new skill, exercise creativity, and hone fine motor skills, but it can lead to community-based learning about local culture and local history, as well!

Learning to sew can be difficult, but families can share (or learn together) the basic needle skills necessary for hand sewing by starting small. Adults or teens who can stitch using a simple needle and thread can share that skill with children, allowing them to learn how to patch together fabrics or perhaps mend their clothes. Families who have sewing machines at home can share machine skills with older children who can control the machine’s pedals, buttons, and dials while still keeping a good stitch pace. 

Don’t know how to sew? Inquire with your local fabric store or seamstress about onsite classes, or recruit a community expert to skillshare. Also, repair cafes are great opportunities to take items to be mended, watching closely, and asking questions as a way to learn via skill-sharing.

Once on the path to sewing success, families can explore how local culture and local history are related to the theme of sewing. Exploring the history of the textile industry in the Connecticut River Valley can open young sewers’ eyes to the history and development of textile manufacturing – particularly the silk industry. Through virtual tours, visits to special museum exhibits, and self-guided expeditions through historic neighborhoods, families can learn about the threads connecting themselves as sewers to the silk industry of Northampton’s past. Families can visit an exhibition hall at a local agricultural fair to connect sewing skills to local culture. As summer wanes, fair season kicks into high gear in western Massachusetts, affording families with ample opportunities to view hand-sewn items (especially quilts!) made by local community members. An important element of rural culture, exhibition halls showcase skills for self-sufficiency, and viewing beautiful handmade items can open young sewers’ eyes to how sewing can help them become more self-sufficient.

Finally, families can connect new sewing skills to studying gender roles in society by using our literary guide for the book Sam Johnson and the Blue Ribbon Quilt, which features both men’s and women’s quilting groups. Traditionally a skill left up to women, sewing is, of course, a skill that anyone can learn and succeed at, and in considering its typical “women only” designation, children can begin to think critically about gender roles in society.

[Photo credit: (cc) Christopher Bulle]

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