I love a good auction, and I had the good fortune to attend one this last weekend. What makes it a good auction? Ah, that would be answered differently by everyone. For some, it is finding a great bargain. For others, it might be finding the rare item in their favorite collection. For me, it is finding a bit of personal history, tucked away where few would look.
In one of the box lots at the auction I noticed an old composition book. It was paper covered, somewhat dirty and well used. The yellowed pages were intact though and to my surprise contained some young girl's hand sewing lesson. I had to buy a box full of uninteresting postcards, as well as seven Top Value Stamp books, to win this little gem of personal history.
I have enjoyed going through each lesson and admiring the handworked samples attached to the pages, and thought I would share some of it here.
Lesson one looks so neat! Here is the student, new book, maybe new fountain pen, new start of the lesson. Impressing the teacher was a priority. The writing is lovely script, and the lesson is just a group of sewing term definitions. The student recieved a B.
Starting with lesson two, there is a list at the top, obviously the lesson plan. It lists what the sample shows, the material, the type of stitching, the thread and needle used. Linen toweling is used to show bastings, and various hemming styles. The scant lesson states that the overhanding (sic) stitch is one thread deep and two threads over, a permanent stitch, straight and close together, done with the needle pointed toward the chest. The lesson was too scant for the teacher though, the student received a C-.
Now the lessons get harder and each take several pages of the students unique handwriting to convey. In lesson three cuffs are discussed as well as how to lay a pattern on the material for cutting. For some reason there is no fabric sample for this lesson, although the lesson plan calls for a cambric fabric. Lesson four makes a hemmed patch in a damaged garment, the sample showing 'material from home'. Remember, this is all hand stitiching. In lesson five, a komono was constructed, using according to the lesson plan, a combination stitch, catch stitch, feather stitch, flat hangers, hooks and eyes, and self made bias facings. The type of fabric used was not listed, and there is no fabric sample for this lesson. The notes go on for eight pages and looked hurried, like maybe now these lessons are pushing the student hard to stay with the class. The teacher did not like the students explanation of making bias strips and noted that on the lesson.
Suddenly the next page is lesson 8 and it is one that impressed me the most. In it the student does a blanket stitch, and invisible mending. This is where I started again realizing how much of the hand sewing skills I have not learned, being so relient on my fancy sewing machines. When one looks at the black piece of fabric, with the white blanket stitching on the edge, that seems to be the only thing there. On close examination though, you can see where an 'O' and 'J' had been cut out of the fabric and then invisably mended! If you turn the fabric over you can see the square of like fabric attached to it, but the stitching is so fine (and I might add, so black!) that from the front none of that is visable. I gave the student an A+ in my mind, but the teacher, ever strict gave a B.
The student is now ready to do visable stitching, and so the next lesson is button holes. Yes, hand stitched button holes, thirteen in all, running in a straight line up the muslin fabric sample. The sample piece is folded over, doubling the fabric as in real sewing and the edge of the sample was (although not neatly) stitched closed. No frayed edges for this sample! Also practiced were six blind loops, used I believe for hooks. The student is concentrating hard now on the hand sewing, because the written lesson looks just like any of us would write, when in a hurry. There are many spelling errors, corrections of syntax by the teacher, and in a list of questions at the end are points to the lesson that were not addressed.
We are now up to lesson 11. At the top of the lesson plan are the words, Gathering & Stroking. Stroking? Turns out, as I read through the less hurried lesson (and so much better handwriting) that after doing the traditional running stitch and pulling up the gathers the student writes "We then stroked the gathers in this way: We took a sharp steal (sic) pin and pushed each gather close to one another and the first real close to the needle and brought that pin on down this leaving each gather finished." While there could probably be a few punction marks to make it clearer, I realized that stroking was the process of straightening and aligning the gathers before attaching the cuff band. The three written pages of the lesson was not enough for the teacher, at the end was written, in a lovely script, "How is band placed to garment? Which side was held toward you while gathering and stroking? Which was held toward you while pinning, basting and sewing on band?" Ah, details, details, that teacher definitely wanted details!
There are two lesson 11's in the book. I am sure by now our student has lost count! This lesson constructed an apron, both a large 'for real' size one (which the student got to put lace trim on the hem line) and a tiny two inch sample. The material is listed as Indian Linen, and is a fine sheer muslin. The tiny apron is complete in all details, tiny hem, tiny gathers, tiny band. The only thing missing is a tiny button on the back of the band, used in the real garment to wear the apron.
That was the last lesson in the book. Spring's here, school is out. Or were these after school lessons, given by the local seamstress for the improvement of the young ladies sewing skills? I will never know. Still looking into a bit of that one girl's young life is something I treasure. I know somewhere along the line, she had spring fever because on the very last page is written this poem:
Just a bunch of wildflowers from your far off home,
Gathered in the valley where we used to roam.
Maybe they'll remind you of a heart still true,
Just a bunch of wildflowers that I picked for you.
She may have never given that old composition book a second glance after that class. She may have hated sewing and never took up needle and thread again. But I am glad if was saved and will pass it on someday, for the sheer history of it, and use it while I own it, for the inspiration of just what could be done with only a needle, thread and fine fabric.