To Sew or Not to Sew

Melody Cox
14 Min Read

When people think about all the many different tasks that are done on the homestead, sewing may or may not make the mental list.  Coming from a sewing background—and now a full-time homesteader myself—I would like to suggest that sewing is an important and very useful skill to have as a homesteader.  With the rush back to the basic skills of life that so many are pursuing, this skill should be named right alongside canning, gardening, cooking, etc.   In my own “back to the basics” journey, I rediscovered the value of sewing and also realized that it was a great winter activity when some of my other tasks went into hibernation.

The art of sewing goes back to the Stone Ages.  From the beginning, people had to cover themselves with some type of clothing.  The earliest cave dwellers would use materials, such as animal skin or fur, and tie them around themselves with whatever they could think of to use: strips from the animal skin, shaving strips from tree bark—whatever would work.  They quickly got more creative by “sewing” the pieces of animal skin together with the strips of “thread” that they had created.  As time continued, so did creativity and innovation, and the sewing needle was born.  The earliest needles were made of bone or animal antlers.  The thread also became more usable as the early earth-dwellers used plant fibers and even animal veins as their thread.  Thus, the simple art of sewing began.

The next stage of sewing was done by hand.  The classic metal needle and better, stronger thread were discovered;  and many pioneer women took up this necessary skill as a part of their daily homestead chores.  In fact, hand sewing was the early homesteader’s only way of providing themselves with clothing, bedding, etc.

Then came the Industrial Revolution and the invention of the sewing machine, which radically pushed this simple, practical homesteading skill forward into a business model as well as a beautiful art form.  From this history, we today have the most elaborate creations imaginable from this basic skill— including clothing, quilts, drapery, and furniture pieces.

My mother taught me to sew when I was a young girl.  She loved sewing; it was actually relaxing for her.  I was eager to learn, simply because my mother’s love for sewing was contagious.  She was also an accomplished seamstress— almost everything I wore was made from her own hands and her classic sewing machine.  What a team they were.  I would literally watch for hours as she worked the material pieces under that machine—and out would come a new beautiful piece of clothing that I could show off at our next church gathering.

I still remember that I was always one of the best dressed little girls with my full-skirted dresses lined with lace and ribbons.  It quickly became a business for her as she made many items for others.  She would design beautiful little girls’ dresses with rows and rows of lace, or a smart-looking boys’ shirt and shorts set.  I remember hundreds of baby blankets and quilts created from her machine, as well as many other creative new projects that she would experiment on.  She sold table placemat sets, tote bags, purses, baby burp cloths, headbands, pillows, curtains… whatever was requested was tried by my momma and her machine.

The magic I saw her perform—turning a yard or 2 of material into a beautiful creation or something very needed and useful—was enough for me to want to learn this skill.  It didn’t take me long to learn.  She started me on simple projects sewing straight lines as I put together block after block for a quilt or pillow.  I soon began trying harder projects and became more skilled as I completed one item after another.  I remember feeling quite proud as a young girl making something that I could give to someone else to enjoy.  I especially loved making baby blankets—they were easy yet beautiful.

Then I grew up.  I stopped sewing for a season of time as my city life got busy.  I always kept a few quilts or blankets going simply out of my desire to sew, but they never seemed to get finished!  When we chose to simplify and become full-time homesteaders, I very happily picked up right where I left off.  Once you learn to sew, you have the skill for your lifetime.

So what benefits can homesteaders gain from knowing how to sew?  How is this simple art-form useful on today’s homestead, especially when you can so easily purchase clothing and other sewn items?  Even though sewing has been vital in history past, is it that important for today’s basic skills list?  “To Sew or Not to Sew”… that is the question for today’s homesteader, isn’t it?

Upon returning to life’s basic skills five years ago, I have found sewing to definitely make my survival list!

Let me make a comparison:  just as hunting was a necessary skill in years passed, but now is optional, sewing is the same.  While hunting is a choice in today’s world, a true homestead survivalist finds it of utmost necessity to learn how to handle a gun as well as hunt game; learning the skill and keeping in practice so that upon the day it is needed they are ready.  Sewing, too, is a choice today.  You may not think it important to learn.  But maybe you’ll reconsider?  The day you find that you need to make your own family clothing—for whatever reason—will be the day when you grasp its importance.  I propose that the skill of sewing is both an enjoyable, profitable, and vitally necessary skill to possess.  It should be on your survival list, too.

Think about it this way: on the homestead, sewing will not only provide new items that are needed, but can be used to maintain clothing for a much longer time.  And guess what…  that worn out clothing item can be sewn into a quilt.  In other words, a simple piece of clothing or fabric can be recycled into several other home items, allowing your hard-earned money to go a much longer way!

Sewing can also be a business, bringing money into your home or saving your money by making a gift rather than buying one.  I have found that people deeply appreciate a handmade gift more than I had realized before.  This brings the aspect of joy and contentment from giving and sharing that, to me, is one of the treasures of the simple homestead lifestyle.  Sewing can be a win-win on many levels.

All this being said, I am most compelled to write about learning the skill of sewing from a survivalists thought.   Each of us has to face the instability of our economy.   From national security to economic instability down to the possibility of your own job instability, we each must ask ourselves what we can do to prepare for a future that may include insecurity, loss, unforeseen changes, and major adjustments in our way of living.  When our family made our “back to the basics” list we asked ourselves two simple questions:

1.  How will where I live and the amount of knowledge/skills I possess right now effect my future unforeseen especially if our economy changes.

2.  What do I need to do to prepare for the best future possible for me and my family based upon my answer to this question?  What do I need to change and what do I need to learn?

The bottom line is something we all know but maybe need to remind ourselves of on a regular basis:  we may not be able to control our weather, our government, our economy, our planet, and all the other things that happen to and around us—but we can control what we will do today to prepare for what the future may bring to our doorstep.  We see people returning back to their roots, to the land, and to basic life skills.  Sewing is one of those skills to learn today because you may need it tomorrow.

So hopefully, now you are convinced to add this skill to your homestead list.  Sewing is not a hard skill to learn in today’s world!  Classes are offered both locally (at your technical colleges as well as community centers), and on dozens of websites as well.   Even YouTube has sewing videos for your viewing pleasure.   I dare say your grandmother, or your elderly neighbor knows how to sew; but maybe you don’t have time to take a class or spend an afternoon with your neighbor.   With today’s patterns that are very self-explanatory, you could even teach yourself to sew if you wanted to.

It is also a skill that is not expensive to learn.  Patterns are inexpensive and will last you a lifetime once purchased, if treated with care.  Material can be purchased cheaply, especially when it is on sale.   I have a friend that buys material/clothing items at the thrift store when they are 50 cents each and uses these to make and remake many creations!  Being my own survivalist homesteader, I regularly purchase a piece of material when it’s on sale almost every time I go shopping to add to my sewing closet.   Material can be stockpiled; build your sewing closet just like you build your food pantry!   Your most expensive cost will be purchasing the sewing machine.  Do your research, but most sewing machines are worth the money and if well maintained, they will last for years.

Let me say a word about local classes.   While some may cost, others—like a quilters guild—are free.  Even if there is a cost, the practical help you gain from other veteran seamstresses is invaluable.  There are many sewing tips and shortcuts that can be shared when in a group class.  Local classes also build your relationship with your own local community at large, which obviously can provide its own importance when needed.   The friendship, encouragement, and generational relationship-building that happens at your local community sewing class may even be as valuable as learning the skill itself!

Homesteading is our future.  I believe this—and, most likely, you do too.

The homesteading life includes many basic skills.  We may have to learn some new skills to live a simple life based on basic life skills.  In my opinion, every family member should know and be able to contribute to those life skills so that the homestead can run as efficiently as possible.

Sewing is one of those life skills.  Should someone in your family (if not you) learn to sew?  Yes, absolutely!   The one day you find yourself with having to mend or remake your favorite pair of work jeans, or making a quilt or home-made gift to greet your neighbor, or use to barter for a much-needed item, is the day you will be glad you learned.  I know I am glad to have spent those many hours learning from my mother just about every day.

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