- Arts and Design
The Grandmother Inheritance -- Why I Sew
A Sewing Legacy
I sew because of a woman I never met. Sarah died in rural Missouri in 1919, thirty years before I was born. Sarah had always helped her husband support their family of four children by taking in sewing, mending and ironing jobs. Three years before her death from tuberculosis, Sarah's husband deserted the family.
A resilient woman, with few options, she returned to work full time, teaching school by day. However, at night after the children were asleep, she continued to sew in order provide a decent life for her children. She taught her oldest daughter, Daisy, at an early age to sew, quilt, and mend. Sarah left a sewing legacy for her soon-to-be-orphaned children with these lessons.
Before Sarah died, she made eleven year old Daisy, promise to take care of her younger brothers. She also made her swear to ensure that they got good educations. Sarah's death marked a separation of her children, as no relative wanted more than one extra mouth to feed.
Unwanted and Unloved Children
An unkindly aunt took Daisy in, not out of love, but because she saw Daisy capable of providing extra income for her own household. With the money that Daisy earned in sewing jobs after school, the aunt bought new clothes, shoes, a fox stole and a phonograph.
Daisy loved school and was an excellent student. She wanted to follow her mother's example and become a teacher. At the age of fourteen, her aunt announced that she would no longer be returning to school after summer, because the aunt had secured a job for Daisy at a nearby garment factory.
At the same time, Daisy's five year old and seven year old brothers were only partially being schooled. The relatives who took them in needed their help on the extended family farms. Back then, child labor laws weren't the norm and literacy wasn't always a priority. These situations, were in direct violation of the promises Daisy had made to her dying mother.
Child Labor in America Was a Reality in Daisy's Childhood
Her Mother Taught Her Well
Clever and resourceful, Daisy sprang into action - she secretly got additional sewing jobs and saved up a modest amount of money. The plan was, that she was going to run away to California, make a lot of money and send for her brothers. They were all going to get an education, once they were reunited.
On a long and twisted road, the runaway only made it as far as Phoenix, Arizona. There, the fifteen year old pretended to be eighteen. She lived in a rooming house, working as a carhop full time, seamstress part time, and studying for the day she could return to school.
By the time she was eighteen, she had saved up enough money to send for her brothers and immediately re-enrolled them in school, thus fulfilling her promise to her mother. It was the extra money she made as an accomplished seamstress that enabled her to do so.
More Than An Income
Sarah's sewing legacy to Daisy wasn't just to supply her with a means of earning income. The legacy encompassed so much more. She gave Daisy a love of fabrics, design, creativity and professionalism, which served her daughter well all her life.
Daisy would become an accomplished clothing and costume designer in Hollywood, California. Later, Daisy took on a more important role, as the full time surrogate mother to her three grandchildren.
Yet, she continued at all times, to work from home as a seamstress and in her later years - well into her nineties, she was a well-known master quilter. She didn't neglect her education either, she earned several degrees.
Because of Sarah
I sew because of Sarah, as Daisy was my grandmother. Like many who sew, the common thread among us, is having mothers or grandmothers, who taught us this important life skill.
Sewing isn't just about perfectly even stitches. It's about understanding complex steps. It's about having enough patience to see a job through. It's about expressing yourself creatively. It's about feeling good about a job well done.
For the record, Daisy kept her promises to her mother. This summer, I will keep my promise to Daisy. The thread of sewing will continue, when I teach the oldest of my own granddaughters, the joy to be found in the gift of knowing how to sew.
I Learned By Example
Some of my earliest memories are of sitting underneath Grama Daisy's industrial sewing machine, both in her room and in a local garment factory. Even today, when I see corduroy, I can smell the scent of eight foot high piles of corduroy jeans, all in various stages of completion and I smile.
Whenever I look at a bathing suit advertisement, I remember the many swimsuits she designed for Bobbie Brooks and other manufacturers. One of my proudest life moments was at the age of eleven, on the first day of school -- when I wore my first skirt that I had made completely by myself.
It was a red cotton background, pleated shirt, with flags from around the world print, it swirled as I proudly walked out onto the playground. Imagine my horror, when none of the others girls in my class, believed I made the skirt, for they all knew my grandmother was a seamstress. I laugh now, but I was crushed.
Fond Memories of an Old Singer
The Sewing Movie
Hubnote: Child Labor in America Today
We'd all like to think that child labor in America, is a thing of the past, it still exists today in hidden pockets of our country.
Far worse, is that we allow and promote child labor, with our many companies that are outsourced to foreign work sites throughout Asia, Mexico, and South America.
The Obvious Advantages in Knowing How to Sew
Aside from being a worthwhile hobby, sewing can be a means to expressing creativity you never knew you had. The joy of having clothing that is different from what's found on the clothing department store racks -- making use of the styles, colors and fabrics unique to you, and the image you want to convey to the world, make all the effort required in sewing worthwhile.
I realize that not everyone is lucky enough to have had a grandmother or mother who sewed. Furthermore, public schools seldom offer the kind of intense learning to sew experiences we once taught in our American school system prior to the 1970s.
The good news is that those of you who are scared off by the complexity of reading patterns and instructions, can successfully learn to sew. Start out with simple and easy patterns. In choosing patterns, there are a number of companies making patterns that will say right on the sleeve "Easy." They are not only instructional but pictorial, easy enough for anyone to turn out a successful project.
Also, consult your local fabric store's employees. Many of these stores offer free classes to those purchasing sewing machines through their store. Others offer low fee courses in learning to sew.
Why Do Child Labor Violations Still Exist?
In one word -- poverty -- is why child labor violations continue to exist in today's world.
Other reasons are:
- Family and cultural expectations
- Family and cultural traditions
- Abuse of children
- Lack of quality schools
- Lack of day care
- Lack of health care
- Irresponsible employers
- Lack of employment for women who are the sole supports of their households
In the era that Daisy grew up in, child labor was common place. Today, we shouldn't forget that child labor still exists, even here in America. Almost two hundred and fifty million children between the ages of five and seventeen are working.
Of that figure, one hundred and seventy-five million of them, are employed in jobs that are dangerous physically. Another eight and one half million, are in some sort of forced or bonded labor (including use of children in war and conflicts, selling children into slavery, and sexual exploitation).
So where are these children? Here are the facts:
- 61% in Asia
- 32% in Africa
- 7% in Latin America
- 1% in America, Canada, Europe and other more enlightened nations
Now, maybe you are thinking, 1% doesn't sound a lot?
That's almost three hundred thousand children illegally employed -- just in the United States (most of them agriculture).
How many more children will have to work at an early age and give up their childhood, health, and education?
What Jobs Should Your Teens Not Be Doing
- I believe part time jobs for our older teens, should almost be mandatory, as it is a very good lesson in getting ready for adulthood. As a mother who raised five children to adulthood and a grandmother, I know from experience that summer jobs are vital for our teens, for a number of reasons:
- It's a good builder of self-esteem
- It teaches responsibility
- It is a good "test" drive for the realities of adulthood
However, I'd like to share a couple of insightful opinions:
- Call me old-fashioned -- I believe teens should not work during the school year, because their real "job" is to prepare academically for their future. Too many employers of teens abuse the number of hours teens work and create deplorable work conditions. No high school student should be trying to do their best in school when they are over-worked, tired, and tied down to an impossible schedule. This even applies to those who still manage to get good grades and work at the same time.
- The money that your teen earns should not be money to "burn." They should pay for their own gas to get to and from work. They should contribute towards their car insurance. They should have to save an agreed upon amount, either for college or some other reasonable goal.
Additionally, from experience I'd like to share that there is no greater lesson than helping secure a manual labor type job for your young male adolescent, who isn't keen on school work. There is nothing more eye-opening at that age, than to teach them it is smarter to work with your brain than to shovel until you are exhausted everyday.
Also, parents need to remember that two hundred and thirty thousand teens are injured each year, in full time and part time legal jobs. Seventy-three teens of legal working age, are also killed on the job each year performing labor that is dangerous.
The top jobs that your teens should not be working at are:
- Traveling Youth Crews (many abuses of teens occur in this industry)
- Construction work at heights (i.e. roofing industry)
- Forklift operation
- Tractor operation (unless properly trained and supervised)
- Landscape helper
- Lawn service
Sounds harsh? The facts are -- teens often lack the experience, or the knowledge in how to work safely. At that "invincible" age, even when they are aware of the dangers, they often ignore safety precautions.