I thought I’d take (another) a break from my sewing for a few minutes today to muse on the culture of sewing, specifically the idea of passing down one’s stash. It’s a very personal topic to me, and writing this blog post was actually a really emotional experience. I’d been trying to put it into words for a while, and I finally just … got it. I hope you like it was much as I do.
Sewing is an intrinsic part of my family, which I guess is and isn’t that unusual, depending on where you’re from. My grandmother learned to sew from her mother and sewed her own wardrobe for most of her early adult life. She taught my mom to sew, and my mom used those skills in the UCR costume shop while she was in college and for random pajama pants and Halloween costumes after that.
I learned to sew quilt tops from my grandmother when I was about six (read: when I could reach the pedal), but I lived in her sewing room for years before that. When my twin sister and I were tall enough to reach the pedals of her vintage Featherweight Singers, she taught us to sew.
When I was eight or nine, I broke away from sewing quilt tops and started sewing clothes. My mom walked me through the process of laying and cutting out commercial patterns and sewing curved edges and how to get pieces to match up at 5/8″ even if their edges didn’t. And the rest is basically history: me experimenting on my own, getting my family to rearrange the living room so I could have a sewing corner, and sewing when I should be doing homework.
My sister fell away from sewing about when I started embracing it, which we were both fine with because we were getting to the point where we needed different “things.” And so I became the sewist in my family.
Almost as soon as I started sewing clothes, my stash started growing.
It started out with my mom’s/my grandmother’s old Singer 503A from the early ’60s. Nine-year-old me couldn’t stand it, so I (apparently permanently) borrowed my grandmother’s Pfaff Tiptronic 1171 because it had a “sew-slow” option. I’ve since accepted my obsession with my Singer and I think I might just die if she ever stops working like the absolutely amazing machine she is.
I got random collections of bias tape and zippers from my upstairs neighbor when she moved out. My grandmother also gifted me her plastic boxes of zippers and bias tape. Patterns from my mom and grandmother. Scissors from my mom (which she apparently thinks aren’t coming with me to college…?). Lace, ribbon, notions from anyone and everyone. Sewing books from my grandmother and from my friends who know me too well.
And then of course, the fabric. From my grandmother and my step-grandmothers, and from my 5th grade teacher. From random relatives and neighbors and people who wanted it to go to good use.
And, of course, there are my own additions to my stash: impulsive fabric buys from my childhood (a bright green sparkly polyester that continues to haunt me), more recent buys that never got sewn, lace that looked pretty, remnants because they’re half-off sale price at Joanns, patterns that seemed like a good idea at the time, little bits and pieces of trims left over from projects…
As sewists we treasure our stashes. They’re an extension of our sewing careers; looking at your overflowing stash and then going out to buy more fabric is a sewist’s rite of passage (into a pit of broke-ness and begging your family to let you take over another bookshelf with your fabric, but, you know, in a good way).
And that’s what makes my stash so much more special. All these random people, connected to me by blood or proximity, with a thousand better things to do with their stashes, chose to give them to me. They saw me worthy of taking on their history as a sewist and continuing it forward.
So I have to say thank you to them for believing in me. Because I would not be the sewist I am today if I had had to start from scratch.
And, to all of you who are holding onto sewing stuff you aren’t using, consider giving it away. Stashes are supposed to be evolving, transcendental things. They can’t just stay locked up forever. And that person you give it to will do something wonderful with it.
One day, I’ll give my stash away to some young budding sewist. At least, I hope I will. I can’t see myself voluntarily giving away all my precious sewing stuff anytime soon—which only makes the fact that I have a stash at all more meaningful. Or, I guess, me a really selfish person. I’ll get there though.
I want to carry my family’s torch of sewing into my future, and hand it off to someone worthy of it. I want to teach my daughter to sew (a bunch of years down the road) and I want her to love it. I want other people to look at my sewing and start sewing. I want to be the reason someone makes a stash, I want to give someone a little piece of my stash to carry on, and I want to make a stash someone will love.
Sewing makes me a part of something bigger than myself, something older than my life, something more meaningful and interconnected than I will ever be, something magical. My stash is the physical manifestation of that: bigger, older, more meaningful, and more magical than me. And the things I sew are the little pieces of that big, huge, inexplicable thing that sewing is that I get to pull out of the world and hold on to.
Sewing makes me feel whole.
Where did your stashes come from? Are yours decades old or just starting out? Do you get that same feeling of wholeness when you sew? Did you learn sewing from your family or are you starting the line? Have you had strangers give you their sewing supplies before, just because they thought you would use them well?
This is actually a really emotional post for me. Did it make you feel something? Did it make you want to go hug your stash and thank it for existing? (I’m separated from my stash right now as I’m writing this, and it’s hurting.)
In any case, thanks for reading this rambling picture-less post (or at least having the decency to scroll to the bottom). You are all the best 🙂