Sewing Memories

sewing machine, masks

Tools of the trade, and some finished face masks

Along with many others, I have pulled out my sewing machine, gathered my stashed sewing supplies, and found multiple videos and directions for making cloth face masks for ourselves and others who are in need of them during this health crisis we find ourselves in. I am not a sewing expert, nor an exacting sort of seamstress. Sadly, my sewing meets the standard of “getting the job done,” but then again, cloth face masks in the middle of a pandemic are not exactly fashion statements.

What I found surprising and comforting was the number of times my mom came to mind as I stitched various styles of mask, searching for a pattern (I really like this one) that would offer ease of use, and match with the supplies I had on hand. No need to go to the store when I had so much to choose from right here, it was simply figuring out what worked best.

mask sewing 2

Starting work on one of my early efforts, which used bias tape to create ties for the face masks.

As I ran pieces of fabric through my sewing machine, stitching pieces together into useful masks, I could almost hear Mom’s voice from the past. It was as if she stood right over my shoulder as I tackled one mask, then another, with her guidance.


Two of the many cloth napkins Mom made over the years, which she gave generously to any who wanted them

For the most part, Mom had her hands full coping with raising five children. But she enjoyed sewing, and dedicated time throughout much of her life to sewing for herself and others. Even though Mom has been gone twenty years now, she made enough cloth napkins to last far beyond her lifetime, for all my siblings, and many others as well.

I wondered, as I stitched these face masks, about who taught my mother to sew. Could it have been her own mother, our Po’lady, who was not known for her domestic skills? Mom talked about Po’lady sewing for the Red Cross during the WWI, perhaps during WWII as well. Maybe her mother did take the time to teach my mom this skill.

011 1962 Kuhl Family portrait

Mom sewed Colonial costumes for herself and my older sister. The short set I wore in this photo Mom sewed for me as well.

Mom made Halloween costumes for us, and short sets we wore all summer.

Caleb, Anna, Grampie camper

Mom made Halloween costumes (the gold dress Anna wore) for grandchildren too. Princess costumes come in handy regardless of the time of year!

She sewed doll clothes too, and she really enjoyed this type of sewing. This always puzzled me on several levels. First, doll clothes are even more difficult to sew than clothes for children or adults.

013 Grannie, g daughters 1993 American girl dolls

Grannie (my mom) with several of her granddaughters, holding dolls that were dressed in doll clothes Grannie had sewn

Such tiny seams, miniscule sleeves, everything in miniature. I, myself cared nothing for dolls. It was a mystery to me what pleasure Mom derived from this challenge.

But I saw the pleasure Mom’s doll clothes brought to my own daughter, who did enjoy dolls, and greatly appreciated the clothes her Grannie brought, or mailed to her to dress up her dolls as she was growing up.

scissors from childhood

Everything in this photo except the face mask were gifts from Mom. Sharp scissors for cutting fabric, tiny scissors for ripping stitches, the pin cushion and even the sewing machine, were all provided by Mom at various times in my life, as gifts.

As I continued to stitch these face masks, hints Mom had passed on to me kept coming to mind. Little things, like how to start a seam to avoid tangling the thread underneath in the bobbin. How to add more thread to a bobbin. How to turn a corner to keep the fabric in place. How to end a seam with a little backstitching to hold the seam firmly in place.

With each movement of my hands, working in time with the fabric and sewing machine, Mom stood quietly beside me, bringing these simple, but not always obvious practices to mind. I wonder now, did she teach my other siblings to sew? I’ll have to ask.

Anna, Grannie sewing

Mom helping my daughter learn to sew

Mom taught my daughter how to sew, or at least spent time with them helping her use the sewing machine for some sort of project. And I taught my son how to sew when he expressed the wish to create a cape for himself.

As Caleb set to work to get the fabric cut and pieced together, I strove to assist him. At one point, he noted that if he’d had any idea how easy it was to stitch one piece of fabric with another, he would have done a lot more of it! Another time while he worked on the same cape, I made a suggestion, to which he paused, grinned, and asked, “Who’s driving this pedal anyway?” I backed off and let him proceed.

And so we learn, or we don’t. Passing on lessons, which may or may not be taken in, may be appreciated, may be valued, if only later in life. We may never even know the value of what we share. But the lessons continue. Please be safe, stay healthy if you can, and be gentle with yourself and those around you.


Marjorie Turner Hollman is a writer who loves the outdoors, and is the author of Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd editionMore Easy Walks in Massachusetts, 2nd editionEasy Walks and Paddles in the Ten Mile River Watershed, and Finding Easy Walks Wherever You Are. Her memoir, the backstory of Easy Walks, is My Liturgy of Easy Walks: Reclaiming hope in a world turned upside down.

beech cliffs 2018


Filed under Blog Posts-Personal Histories

8 responses to “Sewing Memories

  1. Bill Schineller

    Thanks for sharing! My wife has also fired up the old sewing machine to make masks. Like Rosie the Riveter during wartime 🙂 For me, just hearing the sound of the machine is soothing. I’m transported me back to my childhood home, listening to my mom’s sewing machine as she hemmed the pants of our school or boy scout uniforms, or made halloween costumes as your mom did.

    • marjorie561

      Thanks for reading and responding, Bill. Indeed, as I sew I have the sense of many others, including 2 next door neighbors, who are also hard at work stitching for others. Happy you had a trip down memory lane for yourself, and trust it was a pleasant journey.

  2. I so loved reading this, Marjorie! My mom couldn’t sew a stitch…and thus neither can I, lol. But I can so relate to feeling your mom’s presence during this activity. How blessed we are to have such lessons become part of the fabric of our lives (pun not intended, btw ; ). Thanks for sharing the photos, too—the B&W of your family with you in shorts is just spectacular! Stay safe and healthy!

    • marjorie561

      You are so welcome, Dawn, thanks for reading, and commenting, it was a real joy when this article opened up to me. One never knows…. And thanks for compiling the roundup of stories that you persist in offering so faithfully. Hope this finds you well.

  3. I’m with Dawn on this one. My mom’s sewing projects were based on glue and velcro. But I have kept her sewing homework from grade school in the ’50s. She got her aunt to do it for her. It’s marvelously delicate embroidery and lacey stuff. I’m glad you’ve found a way to stay busy and think of your mom.

    I found an old shirt with french cuffs, cut the cuffs off, strung an elastic through the cuff-link holes and called it a day. Two masks, no needles. Not-sewing runs in the family!

    • marjorie561

      Thanks for reading and commenting, glad you enjoyed it. And A for creativity in finding ways to do things without battling with an uncooperative sewing machine. It can be maddening, for sure.

  4. This is a beautiful post! My grandmother taught me to sew nearly 50 years ago. I still remember the sewing lessons, but also the lessons she taught me by example of how she lived her life.

    • marjorie561

      What a wonderful memory, Betty, thanks so much for commenting. Happy to have stirred up what sounds like very positive thoughts of a beloved person. I appreciate you telling me.

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