(Author’s note: This article is dedicated to anyone with young women in their lives)
When I was young, my father was an electrician. My mother was a seamstress. When I wanted something for myself, I was told how many hours my father needed to work (at $4.00 per hour) to pay for the item. I stopped asking.
At the age of thirteen my father offered me a choice. He would give me a monthly allowance of $15 to buy my clothes or I could have an unlimited amount of fabric if I was willing to make my own. I chose the $15. In one week, I had purchased a “hatbox” handbag, a pair of shoes, and a grey flannel skirt. My budget was spent. A week later I asked my father if I could change my mind. I began making my own clothes. It became a passion. I obsessed over every detail of the Villager brand of clothing, and copied them as we could simply not have afforded the original garments.
With time, I took classes in couture sewing and pattern making. Now the horizons were unlimited for creativity.
Today I reflect on the multiple benefits that the knowledge of sewing brought to my life. It began as a money saving project. It became much more. In the days during university I returned home to make the clothes which I anticipated I would need in the next semester…from daywear to evening gowns. After university I was making Yves St Laurent Suits, Givenchy dresses and Dior coats with all the couture ingredients…linings, interfacings, under-linings, and bound buttonholes. I sewed almost every evening in anticipation of the next big date or social event in my life. I was never bored or lonely.
Why did any of this matter to the person that I would become?
The first lesson – was the discovery that I could take something (i.e. fabric) and create an entirely different product with it. I was only limited by my imagination and skills. The ability to “create’ and “change” was exciting and rewarding. At the end of the project I would hang it on display in my home and feel an incredible pride.
Life lesson number two: I was never bored or lonely. My mind was full of ideas for the next project and my free time was filled with the pleasure of executing my ideas. In the end, the result was the ability to enjoy time with myself, alone. I did not realize then just how many people are unhappy when not surrounded with people. Time alone affords one the time to reflect. It is a precious and rewarding part of our lives. I am not sure I would have come to that conclusion without a creative outlet like sewing to envelope me.
Life lesson number three: I quickly realized that with the ability to create my own designs, I could be unique. I did not need to wear exactly what was “in” and be a carbon copy of other young women. I could express my own ideas. It was now possible to present myself to the world as I wished…not as others demanded. This permission which I granted to myself extended to my life choices in many areas. Having the confidence to know that I could be myself, be different if I chose to be, and be in control of how I presented my individuality was helpful in many spheres in the years to come. It created a sense of self-confidence that I certainly did not have as a young girl.
Life lesson number four: This accomplishment translated later into a belief in myself in business. I believed blindly that if I put my mind to a goal, it would be achieved. At the end of the day we had three retail stores (not by coincidence they sold the finest European clothing fabrics), which were a product of my inability to accept defeat and my preparedness to apply myself willingly until I had achieved my goals. It brought me much joy and fulfillment. Somehow the ability to create a successful garment, later translated into a believe in myself in other endeavors.
In the process of learning to sew I was using commercial patterns with very complicated instructions. When I paid close attention, and followed them…. The product was amazing. When I thought I knew better (or was too lazy to do as instructed) …. disaster. The parts of the garment simply would not fit together. This was life lesson number four. I did not know better than the experts. It taught me respect and gave me the patience to pay attention to details.
Once I had conquered the technical side of creating garments, the innovative juices were flowing into all the areas of my life. It was a feeling of empowerment. Something quite subconscious, which I did not identify until just this week, simply because I had not taken the time to look objectively at what shaped my attitudes during the formative years.
We are living in a technical age which has little time for hands-on creativity. When my contemporaries were in public school as I was, we were taught how to sew on an incredibly basic level…but it was a beginning. Wives were not career women and there were different skills required generations ago. Now our daughters and granddaughters are in computer technology classes and involved with instant-everything. There is little time for hobbies and creativity. There is little time to sit and stare- unless it is at an electronic device. This is a tremendous loss.
The trend cannot be reversed, but the experiences of the young people in your life can be enriched if they are encouraged into hands-on creative activities. When you see a glimmer of light in the eyes of young youngsters (boys as well of course!) which can be nurtured through art classes, sewing or other inventive activities- encourage not just the participation but the development of these skills, as the side benefits are far beyond the obvious.
The day-to-day quality of the lives we are living in the 21st century is being impacted upon by the immediacy of technology. The stress of the demands on us all is encouraging our isolation from others and a diminishing of the creative spirit. This is one of the essences of life which we can still enjoy and develop in those for whom we care. It takes a concerted effort to combat the diversions sent our direction.
The powers that be are constantly distracting us from looking inwards, but we can make room in our lives for all the benefits and pleasures that creative productivity brings to us on so many levels.