Passing on a Legacy

by Tenna Perry

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Twenty-five years ago, I was making a living sewing costumes, wedding gowns and doing alterations for other people. Deadlines and clients, who didn't want to admit they were the size the pattern said they were, eventually made me grow to hate sewing. One day I closed my (very expensive) machine and didn't open it for so much as a hem over the next twenty-two years.

Then in the fall of last year, I was faced with finding clothing for a 13-year-old clotheshorse daughter, a kindergartner who swore she would only wear dresses, and a 3-year-old who was chosen to be a male model. With three kids, one paycheck, and stockpile of medical bills, I was appalled at how quickly the start of school was approaching.

Passing through my local Wal-Mart, I glanced over at a stack of material they had on a table. Over it all was a sign that said "$2." I began rummaging through the tables, and by the time I left, I had $40 worth of material.

While in shock over the price increases of patterns, I soon found out that Wal-Mart sells name brand patterns for half the cover price. After half an hour of looking through pattern books, I had one dress pattern apiece for my daughters. I also bought a shirt and slacks pattern for each of them. Thanks to the sizing, the shirt for the kindergartner could also be used for my son.

Within a week, I had two dresses, four shirts and two pair of slacks for my eldest child. By the second week, I was cutting multiple layers of material out to save time and had finished eight dresses, five shirts, a pair of slacks and two pair of shorts for the kindergartner. The third week had me back to my old sewing speed and I quickly doubled what I had made. School had been in session for a month and a half before either of my girls wore the same outfit twice.

I still had time for my son's wardrobe and made him a lined vest and black dress slacks, three shirts, two short sets and a pair of much needed pajamas.

Of course, I didn't get all of this for just the $40, but I kept a running total of what I spent on material and notions. In the end, all three of my children had extensive, custom-fitted wardrobes for just over $100!

It wasn't long before I found out sewing by the mothers of school age children is considered a lost art. I was repeatedly asked where I had bought their clothes, and when I told that they were homemade, most people didn't believe me. It was because of this I thought to pass on the ability to make unique, well made clothing to my eldest daughter Vicki.

My first thought was that being a seamstress didn't necessarily qualify me to be a teacher. In the past, I had tried to teach this same child karate and found I didn't have the patience with my own as I did with other peoples' children. I began checking out the local fabric stores and every introductory class I found was eventually cancelled because she would be the only student.

Biting the bullet, I took her down to the dollar-a-yard tables and let her pick out her own material. That evening I gave Vicki her very first sewing lesson. By the next day, she had finished her first shirt. While sporadic, we have continued these lessons and she is now confident enough to cut out, pin and baste a shirt, dress or pair of slacks. She still waits for my final approval before putting a permanent seam into anything. Now, not only has she learned a craft that will allow her to be well dressed no matter what her budget is like in later life, but she has also learned to appreciate the money and time spent on every piece of clothing in her closet.

More importantly, by teaching her how to sew, we have grown closer together at a time when most teenagers are pushing away from their mothers. These teaching sessions have given us quality time together that didn't include eating out, watching TV, or going to the movies. This has helped improve our relationship and given her a skill that will help her on the road to independence.

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