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

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

While hand-sewn clothes have largely been replaced by factory-made ones, the ability to sew remains a useful skill.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 by starting small, families can share (or learn together) the basic needle skills necessary for hand sewing. Adults or teens who are able to 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 own clothes. Families who have sewing machines at home can share machine skills with older children who are able to 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 the ways in which local culture and local history are related to the theme of sewing. Exploring the history of the textile industry in the Pioneer 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. In order to connect the development of sewing skills to local culture, families should visit an exhibition hall at a local agricultural fair. 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 the ways in which sewing can help them become more self-sufficient themselves.

Finally, families can connect new sewing skills to the study of 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 credits: (cc) H is for Home; (cc) Christopher Bulle]

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