Happy National Sewing Month! Weekly Giveaways!

If you didn’t already know, September is National Sewing Month, and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity to recognize it. To celebrate I am putting together a fabric, notions, and pattern giveaway each week this month on the Indygo Junction Blog!! So be sure to visit Indygo Junction and sign up for newsletter & blog updates to be notified!

According to Sewing.org, the observance of National Sewing Month began in 1982 with a proclamation from President Ronald Reagan declaring September as National Sewing Month “In recognition of the importance of home sewing to our Nation.”
September is a time to celebrate our passion, but we know the creative, therapeutic and calming effects of sewing are joys that we can celebrate throughout the entire year.

Mary Brooks Picken, entrepreneur and one of America’s premier authorities on sewing and fashion in the 20th century, has been a constant source of inspiration to me and my work. As I reflect on all that she accomplished during her career, I feel there is a new light shed on the impact that sewing has had on women’s creativity and ingenuity throughout history. Mary and the Woman’s Institute Correspondence School offered a platform for the women who shared a passion for sewing and needlecraft to connect. Here is an image from the school’s, Inspiration, newsletter dated 1922, which was sent to students each month. My book Vintage Notions, features many lessons, articles, and illustrations like this one for this publication.

Today the American Sewing Guild offers organized sewing clubs that allow for similar connections, not to mention online communities like our Indygo Junction Sewing Pattern Facebook Group. So, in honor of Mary and this month’s occasion, here is a little history lesson of some of her contributions.

Not only was Mary Brooks Picken an expert sewer and seasoned teacher, but also a prolific author. I’ve spent a lot of time researching and tracking down Mary’s published works, and I’m thrilled with the collection that I’ve managed to gather. Her work is the inspiration for much of my own work and writing. I thought I would share a few books in my collection that Mary authored during several eras of her career.

The Secrets of Distinctive Dress: HARMONIOUS, BECOMING, AND BEAUTIFUL DRESS–ITS VALUE AND HOW TO ACHIEVE IT, was published in 1918 when Mary was the Director of Instruction at the Woman’s Institute. Here is an excerpt:

The Singer Sewing Book, first edition was published in May 1949, this copy is dated 1953. The acknowledgments share more of Mary’s contributions to sewing


Dressmakers of France was published in 1956, the “About the Authors”, explains Mary’s connection to Kansas City.

I thought I would share some parting words from Mary. These are excerpts from an article she wrote that was published in May of 1935 in Needlecraft Magazine, The Song of the Needle:

All my life, as a student, as a teacher, as a writer, I have worked with women. Especially have I sought to find the greatest common denominator of their interests. And I think I have found it in the almost universal desire for self-expression. For many years I directed the work of the largest educational institution in the world engaged in teaching women in the home. During a period of nine years, actually five percent of all the women in the United States wrote to us seeking help. For a time I was in almost constant contact with nearly a quarter of a million women and girls. My daily mail was a revelation of their hopes and ambitions. They wanted to express their desire to be attractive, and they found the way in the needle and in the use of beautiful fabrics. But it has been my observation that sewing has the most universal appeal for women, and it has been of great satisfaction to me during the last few years of depression that they have turned to it again. Girls who never had thought of making their own clothes now warm almost instinctively to sewing, and once the fascination of its creative qualities captures them they plunge into it with all the enthusiasm of youth. Women who have not sewed for years are taking it up again, just as many are turning again to knitting and crocheting, as variations of the creative urge.

In The Magic Pattern Book, I coined my term of endearment for Mary- the Fairy Godmother of Modern Sewing. This book is loosely based off of Mary’s Magic Patterns. You will find a Magic Pattern of Mary’s in each chapter of my Vintage Notions book. Here is a photo of Mary from September 1949 that I acquired recently!

In addition to fabric and patterns, we will be giving away a copy of my book Vintage Notions to every weekly winner during September. If you want to learn more about Mary and the Woman’s Institute, I have been sharing lessons and stories from the book as well as treasured textiles from my collection in the Indygo Junction Youtube series Vintage Made Modern.

Who taught you to sew? I would love for you to comment and share your story!

34 Responses to “Happy National Sewing Month! Weekly Giveaways!”

  1. I learned how to sew in 7th grade, home econ class. When I was in Jr Hi school, we had classes in cooking and sewing. Then, a long gap of time – marriage, family, etc.
    I saved money for many years to purchase a Husqvarna machine. And, I wouldn’t let our adult children or my husband touch it!!! LOL. It was $350, my holiday gift to me (real price $500). It is my treasure, my luxury to own a sewing machine.

  2. Amy, I think I “found” you through a search for info on Godmother Mary!

    I was fortunate to grow up with my Grand Mama living next door. I think I was 5 or 6 when I asked her to teach me to sew. We started with hand embroidery, which I still love to do, and moved on to hand stitching clothes for Little Kiddles and Barbie. I still have those dresses as a reminder of how far I have progressed.

    She was a gentle task master who made sure I had mastered all the basic skills before I was even allowed to look at the sewing machine! Mama strived to teach me perfection as the ultimate goal. Our motto – “It can be hand made, just don’t let it look homemade.”

  3. My mom taught me to sew. nearly 60 years ago. I never had a store-bought dress until I was in the 4th grade. (And back then, girls wore dresses all the time. We couldn’t even wear pants to school!) I started by making doll clothes, and soon graduated to making my own clothes and other items.

  4. Mary Anne Wilmouth September 6, 2018 at 10:34 pm

    I love your patterns and have made two tops from your tops and Tunics pattern. Can.t wait to try your other patterns.

  5. I learned to sew by observing my mother. When we were small, she would make alot of our clothes. I started making my own clothes in high school. I started quilting my first year of marriage and have continued. I love fabric, patterns and attempting to make beautiful quilts. It is a very special thing to make a quilt and give it to someone you care about greatly.

  6. I started 4-H when I was 9 years old. We were a small mixed group of country kids wanting to learn. My mom was one of the main leaders for the girls. She is a very good seamstress and we learned a lot from her. I attribute my sewing ability to my mom’s patience and dedication to our group. Our first project was hemming a dish towel. I stayed in 4-H for 9 years. I sewed most of my own clothes in high school. I continued sewing clothes for my girls until they reached school age, then life got too busy. I was introduced to quilting around that time. Quilting is now my favorite hobby!

  7. I learned to sew on my own, but my grandmother encouraged me when I asked for scraps to play with. I made my very own pageant sash for child’s play. I wanted to be a beauty queen when I was wee little.

  8. My Grandmother taught me to quilt not sew almost 60 years ago. My how time flies by. The rest I have learned from wonderful people like Nancy Zieman.

  9. I learned from lots and lots and lots of mistakes. I didn’t have anyone to teach me and I didn’t learn it and school. I love sewing books, and my favorite is a 1970’s version of a Reader’s Digest book on sewing. It’s very detailed, explains fabrics, the mechanics of a sewing machine – everything you could ever want to know.

    Still, there’s nothing quite like seeing a technique demonstrated. Thank goodness for the internet. Now, after a lot of youtube videos and Craftsy classes, and yes, a lot more mistakes, I’m starting to make garments that fit and flatter and look better than ready to wear. I am always thinking about sewing, no matter what I’m actually doing. It seems as though there is always something new to learn, and I love that. I love the online community of Sewists.

    I’d like to make things for my home, too, but I’m too busy with clothes right now – it’s addictive to have things fit when they haven’t for your whole life.

  10. My mother taught me to sew, she made nearly all of my clothes growing up. I also had sewing instruction in jr high and high school and attended a class one summer at our local Singer store.

  11. I took sewing lessons one summer as a teenager.

  12. Being the only daughter/granddaughter/niece in my family, I was the fortunate recipient of fabulous clothes, accessories and doll clothes made by my mom, grandmother and aunt. I learned how to sew and embroider from them at a young age and then branched out to other genres. I learned on a kids’ Singer that my aunt learned on (still have it!) and graduated to my mom’s 1955 Singer. Being a tall, skinny kid, I made most of my clothes, especially pants. When I took home ec in junior high, while most of the class started on elastic waist skirts, my wonderful teacher was fine with letting me pick a project that would challenge me, so I made an ankle-length, lined, plaid wool coat (still have that, too and yes, the plaids matched). When I got back into quilting a few years ago, the 1955 Singer came out of storage and continues to be a workhorse. I found a box of scraps last year in my mom’s attic and she, my aunt and I had a blast remembering who made what. I’m currently using those fabrics in a scrappy table runner for my mom. I so appreciate growing up in a creative and crafty family who encouraged me to try whatever interested me and always appreciated my efforts.

  13. I learned to sew by making clothes for my Barbies. I have made many costumes for my girls, each more elaborate as they got older. I am working on quilting skills. I like to make my own cloths but it’s very hit or miss. I believe it goes back to knowing your body’s strengths and weaknesses. Trying to find patterns and fabrics that work with my shape and my sensitive skin. Even if something fits great, I can’t wear it if it makes me itch. This is a big challenge with a lot of today’s fabrics and readymade clothes. So hard to find cotton, just cotton.

  14. I learned to sew by taking Home Economics in school. After several years of making clothes I decided that I didn’t like doing zippers and button holes. So after taking a break for several years I decided to make my first quilt and from there on I was hooked.

  15. My grandmother used to sew all of our clothes until my grandparents moved about an hour away. She was teaching my mother to sew. I learned to sew at the same time my mom was learning to sew. I haven’t stopped sewing since. I now teach beginning sewers and quilters.

  16. Because I wouldn’t let her, I didn’t get as much sewing knowledge as I should have from my mother – she was an amazing seamstress! Most of my knowledge now is from blogs and you tube. At least I got a background from her and my 9th grade sewing teacher (who thought a new sewer should start out making a wool dress for herself…………….)

  17. My mom was an excellent seamstress. She had sewn for family members, friends and a fabric store years ago. Everything from home dec to fine clothing. I mostly learned from her, although, she made me take a 4H sewing class when I was in seventh grade. I also learned how to embroider from my grandmother. My love of sewn things and quilting has come from them. Sure miss the time we spent together…..

  18. I originally learned in high school home act class and I loved it. I don’t know why, but I stopped sewing until my 40’s. I’ve been seeing again now for almost 20 years. I grow with it through classes, patterns and challenge myself for fun. I enjoyed your post and learning about sewing month.

  19. I started sewing at the age of twelve. I had my first home ec class and I was hooked. My great grandmother let me borrow her Singer treadle sewing machine for a few years. Winding bobbins by hand was quite an experience. For Christmas, when I was nineteen my parents bought me a new Singer sewing machine. Since then my husband bought me another new Singer and a new Janome.

  20. My Mother taught me to sew–4-H was a big influence as we sewed certain projects as our skills progressed. I remember learning to iron on handkerchiefs.

  21. I learned how to sew with a borrowed sewing machine and a tattered old vinyl tablecloth. I made pocketbooks for my mother who was in the hospital, I was going to surprise her with my handmade creations, but instead she surprised is all with her untimely death. I took Home EC through high school and Dad surprised me with my very own sewing machine for my graduation present. Been sewing ever since!

  22. I taught myself.

  23. I was a member of 4-H to learn sewing and cooking. My mom did not sew except for sewing on a button and the ribbon on her Nurse’s Cap 🙂 I remember one 4-H fair when I was asked what was wrong with the hem. I could not see anything wrong with it. The judge said it was going in the wrong direction. At that time, I explained I was left handed. That did not change her mind. My hem was still going in the “wrong” direction. :-).

  24. Janice Lawrence August 31, 2018 at 6:53 am

    I had home-ec in high school, sewing and cooking.

  25. My mother taught me how to sew clothes for my doll (she was about2 feet tall) that could walk, back in 199. Mother and I made matching “crop tops” and short sets for me and Becky (my doll). I would put her in her carriage go everywhere (the 3 houses next door to us) showing off her walking skills and clothes. After all, I grew up on “Beaver Clever” street and every mother, daughter and/or granddaughter could sew, some better than others. Mother taught me how to hand sew and iron. I still have and use my mother’s original sewing machine. She took care of that Singer like it was a child, she was so proud of it and the time we spent together sewing. We buried my mother a week before the twin towers were hit. I miss her everyday and always smile like she is still with me when I sew anything.

  26. I learned how to sew by observing my maternal grandmother, my mother, and my three older sisters who made clothes, rag rugs, and decorating accessories! I also gleaned a lot of sewing dos and don’ts by examining the construction of ready-made clothes and home furnishings in department stores and by studying other sewers’ handmade creations that I admired.

  27. I was self taught with frustrating help from my sister. I was an impatient learner. I basically frustrated myself. Mother was too busy to help. As time went on, I paid more attention to the pattern instructions and understood them better. I was 14 when I first started learning, but by college, I had it pretty well figured out. I also had a big interest in hand embroidery which I watched my grandmother do. She showed me the basic stitches – I still love embroidery today. I made a lot of my daughter’s clothes, as well as for myself, but material has gotten too expensive to sew that much anymore. I use my sewing machine for crafts and mending.

  28. My mom taught me to sew along with learning in junior high school back in the 60’s when all girls took home ec. Mom thought I’d never really be good at it cause I didn’t have her patience or perfectionism. But then I went to college and oh I didn’t have the money to buy what I wanted but there was fabric out there to make it cheaper. I asked for a sewing machine and the rest as they say is history. At 65, I sew for myself, my husband, daughter, and son in law (he loves that I can make shirts that actually fit him right). Unfortunately, I taught my daughter to sew but it just didn’t stick. But who knows someday she may get the bug too.

    • Hello Bobbie, sounds like we grew up in the same era. I’m not sure they still teach home economics like we had in junior high. I remember they also taught us to cook, set a table and to make placemats. My mother was already an awesome cook, everything from scratch and nothing measured, I just turned 67 and love my retirement. I have grandsons only, so I sew t-shirt quilts for them and embroider some items. like pillow cases. I am currently sewing Crossroads “Contemporary Kimono”. I enjoyed your comments. By the way, I live in N Texas.

  29. Amy, I think you and Mary are so charming. I love that you are ferreting out all her history. She really was a force for women. And you are too….thanks so much. i have the Vintage Notions book and need to watch your videos. My mom taught me to sew but I have moved on from dressmaking to quilting because I don’t have to fit the quilts!

  30. My mother taught me to sew in elementary school on her 1940s era Singer, which is still sewing beautiful seams to this day! Her mother was also a great inspiration – one of her favorite sayings was “If you don’t have time to do it right, when do you think you’re going to have time to do it over?” – I hear that every time I rip out something I didn’t plan/pin/baste properly… 8)

  31. My mom taught me to sew and watched my parental grandmother sew and enjoyed many to the things she made for me, my brothers and cousins. Especially the silk dresses she made for my cousin and me. The silk was from what my father brought from Japan while he was stationed there at the end of WW II. Mine was orange and Mary’s was yellow. I often wonder what ever happened to them.

  32. Clare Kilpatrick August 29, 2018 at 5:47 am

    I have a copy of Secrets of distinctive dress, another text from my mother’s classes at Toronto Technical School, and her original notebook on pattern making. She went on to a career with several local dress manufacturers of the day and was the only one in her family steadily employed through the depression though her father was a master carpenter and building contractor in the city.

    I remember sewing at her Singer treadle machine but I learned to sew in home economics classes in the fifties. While I loved cooking, I was impatient with sewing. I always wanted to do things perfectly the first time and my mother could do it so much better and faster.

    When I was married and had acres of apartment windows to curtain, I bought a $60 Singer. That l;ed to maternity clothes bu my skills weren’t equal to tiny baby duds So I took a refresher course. I caught the bug and took everything available, becoming a skilled seamstress, theatrical costumer, and – eventually – fibre artist. My mother’s books led me to collect all sorts of vintage printed matter related to needle arts.

    After I retired from costuming, I culled my pattern collection severely but I still have all the books and magazines and cannot resist adding to that collection on occasion. I really need to plan for ultimate disposition.

  33. My mom and the Girl Scouts. First learned to sew hand sew by hemming a pink gingham waist apron. Not only did I learn to hem and iron but I earned my badge. Kathryn