By M. Scott Morris/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – At one time, sewing was a necessity, but that time has past for the vast majority of Americans.
The craft survives today because fun has replaced need. It’s become a pastime and a way to express creativity, as well as a link to previous generations.
“I first learned from my grandmother,” said Kayla Jackson, 17, of Shannon. “We made a pair of shorts. I was 8.”
In late May, Jackson took first place in the level 4 constructed clothing contest at the 4-H Club Congress at Mississippi State University.
Level 4 is the highest level, and her pencil skirt and shirt combo included a zipper and a lining, which added to the difficulty.
“I’ve worn it to church a couple of times,” Jackson said, “and I wore it to dinner.”
She has her own sewing room and a sewing machine that her grandmother bought for her. She likes to put on her headphones, crank up the music and sew for hours.
“Usually, when I get going, I keep going,” Jackson said. “I don’t stop.”
One of Beth Youngblood’s jobs as a Lee County Extension Service agent is to introduce youngsters to sewing. Maybe the craft will take hold with some of them and become a passion, as it has for Jackson.
But the first order of business is to give young people a good time during summer vacation.
“We try not to make these workshops very stressful, so the 4-H’ers will enjoy it more and want to learn more,” Youngblood said.
The introductory class begins with the basics. Students sit at sewing machines and learn the different parts.
“It’s almost like school,” said 11-year-old Mezziah Turner of Tupelo. “You have to be focused.”
Before thread is introduced, the students stitch along lines printed on paper. If the paper is ripped, Youngblood can tell that a student pulled the paper instead of guided it.
Needle holes that hit the black lines or weave around them give the students immediate feedback in how they’re doing.
“It’s hard because you have to stay on the black line,” said Audra Britt, 9, of Tupelo. “You have to think about what you’re doing. You can’t get distracted or you might mess up.”
Youngblood was a home economics major in college, and her sewing skills go back to second grade.
“I’ve always been intrigued by sewing. I had a sewing box when I was 3 or 4 years old. It was a big green sewing box that I carried all over the place,” she said. “My mother sewed. That’s why. She made me clothes on an old treadle machine that used foot power. I still have her sewing machine. She thought it sewed better than an electric sewing machine.”
“No. Are you kidding me?” Youngblood said. “But she thought it did.”
Youngblood has noticed a recent resurgence in interest in sewing among kids, and has no trouble filling her summer workshops.
Frida Lopez, 10, of Shannon, took her first sewing class last week.
“I want to sew things, clothes,” she said.
Lopez has to build up to that. In the early going, Youngblood likes for students to make projects like pillows, laundry bags and tea towels.
“Especially with the 6 to 13 year olds, they like projects that are quick, that they can finish in one class period,” Youngblood said. “They enjoy quick and easy projects.”
Show and tell
On Wednesday afternoon, students made their own laundry bags. Class began with everyone standing around a piece of fabric on a table. Youngblood explained the stitches that would be needed, then demonstrated at a sewing machine.
“They like to see you do it, not just have you tell them,” Youngblood said. “I still go around and help them while they’re working.”
During her demonstration, Youngblood said, “Oops,” a couple of times. She didn’t leave a wide enough seam allowance and had to adapt her plan.
That was a teachable moment because learning to sew isn’t just about learning to sew. It’s an exercise in solving problems.
“It teaches young people good hand coordination and decision-making skills,” Youngblood said. “They also learn determination. When they don’t succeed, they have to rip it out and try again. It does teach you to stick to it.”
People can spend a lifetime trying to master the lesson of cause and effect, and a sewing room makes a good laboratory.
Budgeting is important when it comes to measuring the need for fabric and thread, although new students aren’t expected to make those decisions in the beginning.
Proper resource management is more Jackson’s speed. She enjoys denim jackets but likes to add her own touches to them.
“I usually see what kind of fabric I have around,” she said. “I think, What can I do with this? I’ll do something and see how it turns out.”
Work and fun
There’s no telling if sewing will become life-long pursuits for Youngblood’s new students, but the possibility exists.
“Some people are obviously born to sew, but it’s a skill everybody can learn,” she said. “It’s like throwing a ball or any other fine motor skill. Some of us have to work harder at it than others.”
Of course, the word “work” means different things to different people. Scott Gray, 12, of Tupelo, didn’t necessarily take a sewing class because he wanted to work.
“This is just something I do for fun,” he said. “I just like it.”