Hoppo Bumpo (n): A children's game. Played by folding one's arms and hopping on one leg. Aim is to bump opponents, so that they lose their balance. Last person standing wins.

April 02, 2010

Musings on being a late bloomer

Do you sew garments? If you do, I wonder when you began? As a child or teenager perhaps? (Many craft blogs I read, suggest this might be the case).

Me? Well, I started only a few months shy of a milestone birthday; one that sounds a bit like the word naughty. Prior to this, I had a chequered past in the sewing department. Indeed the words fiasco and debacle do spring to mind.

You see at some point (quite possibly eighth grade Textiles) I (or possibly a teacher) decided that I really couldn't sew. And once I thought I couldn't sew, I really didn't bother trying again. I bumbled my way though to adulthood without completing even the most basic of sewing tasks. With hand-on-heart, I can swear I found the stapled hem to be a perfectly acceptable finish. And as for the safety-pin-for-button substitution? Guilty as charged. Years ago, I remember Mr Hoppo Bumpo confiscating a garment with a split seam. Apparently his days of sewing up windsurfer sails trumped the use of office stationery in garment repairs.

Sewing went one way and I, the other ... and it seemed never the twain should meet. Which was a pity given that my dear, late grandmother was the most wonderful seamstress. She could make anything and to absolute perfection. She created all sorts of fabulous garments for me and course I watched as the machine whirred away. Unfortunately, I managed to turn sewing into some kind of spectator sport (complete with ignorance of the rules).

Nan used to tell me all the time that I could sew, but to this day I have no idea where her confidence sprang from. In my recollection she never saw me sew anything in particular ( ... and I kept the staples very hush-hush). Sadly, it wasn't until after she died and I was nearly forty that I tried to learn. The 12 hours of beginners' evening classes were a complete revelation: not only was sewing relatively straight-forward, but it was interesting, rewarding and fun. Sewing was liberating too - suddenly there was the possibility of garments in the just the colour, shape and fit I wanted.

Now I am looking back and kicking myself: if only I had started earlier; lots earlier. I am very sad that I didn't take the opportunity to learn from my grandmother. And I can only imagine what those years of extra experience might have produced by now. Plackets with alacrity. Armscyes with my eyes closed. Ease adjustments, with er ... ease? Maybe my wardrobe would be filled with a range of beautiful garments that I truly loved and appreciated.

What do you think? Is an early start in sewing an advantage?

It's certainly the case when you are learning a language or an instrument. And it helps for athletic pursuits (... you don't, for example, see many people taking up gymnastics at my age). On the other hand, being of the mature age often brings a greater degree of motivation and possibly, application to learning. But then there's also a certain confidence that comes with starting something young. (Picture the difference between a 4-year old and a 34-year old novice skier hurtling down the slopes). And let's face it ... there are many aspects of sewing that are about confidence.

While I ponder these questions, there is only one thing I can say with confidence: I am yet to meet an eight-year old who wants to learn how to construct a welt pocket.


  1. I think year 8 textiles has a lot to answer for. I'm still getting the hang of garment sewing for me, but my daughter is complimented on her handmade clothes. If only I knew! Sewing maybe 15 years. Garmets maybe 1 year.

  2. My mother used to sew a lot of clothing for us when we were little. And little outfits for my dolls too, that I remember vividly. I loved every bit of her work. She taught me the basics when I was a child, but the years after that I didn't really do much with those 'skills'.

    Then, I was about 25 I guess, my now husband and I bought our first house. And I thought it would be nice to sew our own curtains. Right. Nice idea for a re-discovering sewist. Not. It almost ruined my lust for learning more. But my parents gave me a simple sewing machine, so I ventured on, made some skirts for myself, very simple everything, without patterns, just tinkering along.

    And then we decided we wanted children. Somehow that blew some wind into the smouldering fire and it lit up. I started sewing a lot more, for the little ones, but for myself also, I bought patterns, learned from them, made mistakes, corrected them, and got more and more addicted to this whole sewing thing.

    So here I am now. I have my own atelier in the house, I try to sew most of the clothes the five of us wear, that simple sewing machine broke down one night and is replaced by a real one. I recently bought an overlocker, I have to admit that I have a bit of a fabric addiction and sewing is my main form of relaxation. Oh, and I am 34 now.

    Hmmz, did I go too much overboard with this long a story? ;-)

  3. My mum made most of our clothes and her own when we were wee. Sadly we didn't really appreciate all of them especially as we got older. When we were about 13yrs my sister and I desperately wanted 'bought clothes' like every body else.I suppose I learned from my mum but had a sewing teacher at school (is there a theme developing here) who totally despaired because I missed out chalking, tacking, basting... Just pin it and head for the machine has always worked for me.

  4. Year 8 textiles has a lot to answer for! That's where I began and ended after one semester, a marble bag, and a pair of dodgy shorts.
    I think I started again somewhere around 30 because I wanted to make curtains for my new house, and then I just couldn't stop.

  5. Starting early is certainly an advantage, but as an adult you can learn a lot quicker. I've been garment sewing since I was 15, and didn't go to pattern making classes until I was 27. It won't take you anywhere near 12 years to be ready to tackle pattern making!

  6. I'm a late bloomer...in ALL things craft (used a sewing machine for the first time 2 years ago).

    I think early starting is a HUGE benefit but I am also a big believer in passion and enthusiasim, with these two things...anything can be achieved x

  7. You sound exactly like me. I failed Year 7 textiles and was forever banished from Miss Gurney's class. When I decided to take up sewing nearly 4 years ago now my mum actually laughed and said it will never last.

  8. Um I definitely think there is an advantage learning early, especially when you are a child as you are less perfectionistic and have lesser expectations. Not so afraid to make mistakes.
    But then again it's really only later in life as an adult you get the enthusiasum and passion for something that drives you which also has an advantage. the thing too is we change all the time, at 14 I wanted to be an actor!
    So don't be too hard on yourself xo

  9. I've actually watched in awe as you've taught yourself stuff with such determination and thoroughness. I am another late bloomer, like you, and luckily have good friends who talk me through the technical stuff, otherwise I would have fallen in a heap by now. But I think age brings a maturity in the creative side, a willingness to bend the rules. My mother was someone who sewed but hated sewing, so I think my formative years were spent watching her swear and hiss as she realised she'd cut out 2 left sleeves which I think made a huge impression on me. I try to just embrace the wonk when I sew now.

    PS I learned tap as a (youngish) adult and while I was still learning I felt the difference between me and the child-dancers but now I think I've caught them up.

  10. Yr 8 textiles - bleah! Who wants to make a freaking apron? And mum's machine was a heavyset dinosaur with dodgy exposed wires on the pedal.

    Most of my pals kept it up so they could make cool clothes out of the fabrics we screenprinted in the art dept next door ( in fluro orange and Choose Life style graphics ) .. But I couldn't abide the strictness of the teacher.

    And that's about where i've stayed..

  11. I hated textiles with a passion!
    During my twenties I bought myself a sewing machine but was always scared of threading it. Every now and then I would go through bursts of sewing - but it really only resulted in a lot of almost finished garments. I would stop for a while and then think that I had forgotten how to thread the machine and this would deter me from starting up again.
    Really it has only been in the last twelve months that I have started sewing again and this time I know that I won't stop. It has become an important part of me. Something that I treasure and look forward to. With maturity has come discipline and patience (a little bit as opposed to nothing at all).

  12. I was one of those sewing freak children (learned to use needle at 3 and a sewing machine at 5....no idea where my mother was looking when I was using needles at 3, but that's another story). I think there's something in that thing about confidence and the multiple brain connections in young kids that mean you can learn easily and confidently st that age.

    BUT..... I've taught a lot of adults to use their sewing machines and a few short months later they're sewing as competently as anyone. I've seen some go on to my "Advanced" patterns and had great results in amazingly short stretches of time. It's ALL about the passion for sewing and the amount of practise they're willing to put in.

    The addictive nature of the satisfaction of a completed project and advancing skill-levels means that adults who get hooked on it, will learn to sew well.... because they won't be able to stop. Does this sound familiar...? ;)

  13. Fascinating!! I grew up where mum was a housewife & made all our clothes (matching too, we gave the Von Trapps a run for their money). I was also shunned by a sewing teacher in year 6 that i was slow & crap, plus she hated my elder sister, so i was done for. Then after 2 science degrees & pregnant with my first baby aged 23, i bought a sewing machine & taught myself how to sew. Weird combination hey!! Then when i had twins a couple of years later, sewing was my full time business. I really want to teach & get rid of all those childhood negative horror stories so many of us suffered. I truly believe anyone & everybody can & should be sewing, love Posie
    PS my 4 children can all sew, spool bobbins etc, just part of life like my husband teaches them how to cook!!

  14. Have a happy Easter Sunday Liesl!

  15. My evil Textiles teacher told me I was too messy a sewer and would give me awful marks. Fortunately I'd been sewing since I was a kid and continued after that. My only regret is that I didn't sew more. My nanna and great aunt were both tailors, are both in their 90's and it's only now that I realise how much they could have taught me.
    Keep sewing!!

  16. My mum sews, and sewed clothes for us when we were growing up, but there was always an awful lot of swearing and complaining and frustration, so it always seemed like lot of hard work to me! And then I managed to cut a hole in the middle of the front of the jumpers we made in year 7 textiles, so my attempts at sewing were few and far between. I'm trying to learn about technique now, though, so I'm trying very hard to be patient, and to do it right the first time! I'm much happier with the end product when I do that, and it seems so much more worth it!

  17. Ooooooh Naughty! I've been sewing since I was knee high to a grasshopper. It's kind of enevitable when your mum owns a sewing shop. One of my first nagging questions wasn't "muuuuuuuuuuum can you put on a dvd" but rather "muuuuuuuuuuum, can you rethread my needle". So it kind of just becomes a part of you, which leads to ambivelance later in life and if you are lucky, you'll pick it up again and further your skills. As for welt pockets, if Barbie so desired them, she was going to have to wait a while!

  18. P.s Schools really have to reevaluate their textiles program! I basically taught my textile classed because the teacher was a maths teacher who had no idea! If it weren't for the homemade revolution and people like your good self, the art of sewing would be lost forever! I would love to rock into a school and be the sister act of textiles!

  19. I'm a late bloomer too but I love sewing and can't wait to learn more every day. If you're determined, you'll learn. But like everything else in life, it's a step by step process. I am very impatient, but learning how to be patient through learning to sew.


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