Jenny’s sewing history

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Here is a history lesson about Jenny and sewing! I thought it would be fun to look back.

I received my first sewing machine at age 7.  See my picture below with no front teeth. I remember I did not like the toy machine as it did not work well. I graduated to my mom’s featherweight pretty quickly.  Most of my sewing was doll clothing.  Sewing and embroidery were usually done by hand. I can still remember my uncle showing me how to design cross stitch on graph paper and I was making samplers with my own designs for a year or 2. It is a wonder I continued to sew. My mom  “made me” hem a gathered shirt by hand. I hated it. I guess I got over the trauma.

In Home economics class my first project was an apron. After that it was a jacket dress and a shirtwaist dress with pin tucks.  By the time I reached the 8th grade I was sewing with wool and made pleated shirts and jackets.  I took home economics all 4 years I was in high school. I made costumes for school musicals and even a bicentennial dress. I am a prolific sewer but most of my garment sewing was done when I learned to sew in junior high and senior high school and the first few years I worked for Singer. I bought most of my fabric from Dannemann’s, Butler’s sewing Center and Woolworth’s. I sewed everything I wore. I even sewed bathing suits because I needed a few. We lived on the water and believe it or not I water skied every day. Those were the days. I could not afford a wardrobe so I made it.

When I reached college my mother gave me her Singer featherweight to bring to school.  I was popular because I had one of the few sewing machines in the dorm.  I sewed for class or special occasions because the budget was small.  I made a Vogue designer tailored suit. The ensemble included a wide high waist lined slack with cuffs and a ¾ length tailored jacket with belt by Yves Saint Laurent.  If only I could wear that fashion statement now.  In one class we designed our own fabric.  I created a pair of bell bottoms with hand stamped butterflies. I wish I had a picture.  I also made a long peasant dress that was tie dyed and wore it for years.  Again you have to picture the fashion statement as cell phones were not around yet.  I guess I should be grateful.

Once I started to work for Singer I sewed complete wardrobes.  We had so many choices as sewers back then. When I moved to Atlanta, Ga I found the greatest place to buy fabric. It was called Cloth World. I loved that place. They had endless round tables displaying fashion fabric stories of colors and coordinating fabrics.  Singer was a close second in fabric display.  Now days you do not see that many fashion fabrics and a lot of times it is displayed like at Mood from Project Runway, in tubes that are stacked on top of each other and impossible to view. G Street had some great fabrics but again I was not thrilled with the display. I always had to fight the fabric to find something.  I was and am a bit spoiled.  I guess we should be grateful for the few stores that are left to service the sewing public. It is funny when you think about it. Retail is struggling today just to remain open, yet they still have such possibilities. Recently I went to Hobby Lobby to touch and feel the fabric there. They had a few nice pieces and the display was well maintained. I saw a lot of old friends in that fabric department. Thing is, it is a city block and ½ from the store entrance. I do not like to hike that far for interfacing. I will buy it on Amazon. See, I told you I am spoiled.

I remember driving to Clear brook, West Virginia to buy the wool to make a winter dress chesterfield coat and a double breasted pinstripe suit in wool and the black suit you see the pattern of.  I looked up the woolen mill and it is now a Grille. Times have changed a lot of things.

When I first went to work with Singer I traded in my featherweight complete with table and all accessories for the new Singer Futura II and then the Athena. I had one of the first electronic sewing machines. I also bought one for my mom. We had a lot of fun on that Singer machine model 2000.

The age of double knits appeared and I was in love with the techniques and the fashion.  I even free motion embroidered complete floral vine patterns on several suit jackets.  See the picture of the blue pantsuit I am wearing.  I made my own sweaters and had a coordinating jacket and pants for every look.  It is hard to explain how inspiring the fabrics were back then.

I was sorry to see our local Kmart close here in Salisbury, MD.  If I remember back to the 70’s and 80’s it was Kmart and Sears that introduced cheap clothing to the public. That started the end of fabric retail because it was now economically as cheap to buy your own clothing, rather than make them.  Now Kmart will soon be gone. Walmart hit us in the 90’s did a number on retail too. Walmart has tried to own and sell everything. Walmart started with fabric, then they took it out, now fabric is back in the store again. It goes against my small business sense to shop at Walmart although I know a few people that do.

When I opened Jenny’s Sewing Studio in 1982 we were on the start of the quilting and sewing craft craze. I offered about 2,000 bolts of colorful cottons. When we opened the cotton was 2.99 to 3.99 a yard. When we closed our quilt shop in 2008 the cotton was selling for 7.99 to over 10.00 a yard.  I have probably made over 100 quilts and wall hangings.  I also enjoyed making lots of quilted clothing, dolls and crafts.  I still have a few quilts I saved and display  for the different seasons.  Quilting really revived sewing for many years. Machine embroidery and quilting helped sell a lot of sewing machines .

I sold Singer, Janome, Bernina, Pfaff, BabyLock, Brother, Juki, and Simplicity sewing machines. I owned one of each top end model and used the machines to learn the features and create samples for my store.

Hancock Fabric came into Salisbury for a few years. Jo Ann fabrics and Mays fabrics also had fabric in Salisbury. I saw them come and then go. None of these fabric chains lasted over 10 to 15 years here. 

We had some really great customers and held some great classes and seminars on sewing, embroidery and quilting. I knew most of my regular customers by name and enjoyed their visits to the store. Life is about sharing and I think that is the number 1 thing I like about sewers, they share. I offered in store clubs for the sewing machine brands and software classes on machine embroidery. I still offer hands on classes on a “one on one” basis.  Hours I spend with these sewers is priceless to me. I try to capture the customer and project unless I get so busy time gets away from me.

Lately I have offered some custom sewing for customers. I am picky as to what I will sew but enjoy being creative.

We will see what the future of sewing brings.  I hope a new generation of sewing enthusiasts opens new markets for the creating fashion. Of all the sewing I have done,  I still liked sewing my own fashions the best.  I loved to make something out of a mistake or pull all my scraps together and create from them. It was the heart of my sewing. Today I enjoy teaching students how to sew and hope they will continue for years to come.

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