Way Back in the Day…


My grandmother never bought her clothes. She made most everything she wore. Sometimes her sister in Montgomery, Alabama, would send her store bought dresses.  That was a time when the sewing machine (and the piano) was the most prized piece of furniture in the house.

She baked her own bread, biscuits, cornbread, hoecakes, white bread, and pancakes. The flour and meal came in big fifty pound fabric bags. The feed sacks and flour sacks came in pretty floral prints and stripes, bright calicoes and solids.

cutting-the-pattern-out-pioneer-dress-300x225She would wash and dry the fabric and lay it out on the dining table, pin a pattern in place, trace it and cut it out. We would have to stand for what seemed like hours while she pinned the hems. She made all of our clothes that way. We literally wore flour sacks to school.


Here’s a picture that made it in the local paper of my older sister and I picking apples. These were clothes my grandmother made. Too bad it is not in color.




Sometimes she sewed rick rack onto them to fancy them up or did smocking across the bodice.


Here is the interesting part. She sewed everything on an old foot powered sewing machine. No electricity, just a rhythmic motion of her foot rocking the floor pedal back and forth. It rocked the entire house.


We have the old sewing machine up for sale now, trying to clean out the garage. All of the books and accessories are with the old machine. It’s a 1927 model, The Sphinx, and it was trimmed in gold, a really fancy number.

Can you imagine having to sew your whole family’s clothes by a pedal powered machine? I can’t even imagine doing that on an electric machine like my other Grandma had. And nothing got thrown away. If it did not fit, it was altered or passed along and altered to fit someone else. We’re such a throwaway society now. That’s hard to imagine. We take so much for granted nowadays.

43 thoughts on “Way Back in the Day…

    1. I get all nostalgic whenever we clean out the garage and put something old up for sale. I know you’ve just been through a world of that. Imagine Andrea having to sew on one of these. She could have done it though, I’m sure.


    1. I used it for years as a telephone stand…needless to say, it doesn’t even serve that purpose now. Ha! The drawers are still filled with buttons and sewing notions. At fifty four years old now, I just need to move it along. 🙂


  1. My most prized possession is a quilt that my grandmother made for my mother. The patches came from old dresses my grandmother made for my mother from those old seed sacks. When Mother gave the quilt to me she also gave me a paper that descried each fabric piece, the dress it came from, and at least one memory my mother had of each dress.


    1. Aw….that’s so sweet. I have a friend who collects quilts but I don’t think she has one that special. That’s recycling in its finest form. Treasure it as I am sure you will.


    1. Thanks Jill! We spent a lot of time at Grandmother’s house. I never sewed either…much more than to hem a dress.

      That pic was in a newspaper clip I have saved. Most of my pics from that era have been destroyed or lost over the years of moving around


  2. You brought back some nice memories for me. My grandma sewed, and she made her own patterns. She even sewed vestments for the priests in her old parish in Poland. My Ma sewed. I sew. I can hear those sewing machines clicking along. 😄


      1. Hi. Looks like I commented to you as my other blog. I discovered that, puzzled, couldn’t figure out why–then I realized I was still signed in there, not here. Good gracious! (Eye rolling). Anyway, this is a nice blog, memories, and all.

        I love, love, love the sewing machine, too. What a neat logo it has!

        Thanks for looking at what I’ve been making. I haven’t progressed to wire wrapping or knotting. Not confident there (yet).


  3. My mother made everything I wore when I was young, dresses, swimwear, underwear, sweaters, etc. or I received my sisters hand-me -downs. My parents saved everything to use again. I wrote an essay about this very thing-the throw-away society- just last week.


    1. Smart Mom! My grandparents grew up during the depression. Money was worthless and they bartered for everything, reused everything, made it or grew it. 🙂 Times have changed.


  4. Great story and beautiful pictures. I loved sewing when I was at new life never knew I could do such great pieces of clothing. I made things for girls who didn’t get money from home. Funny that I never made anything for my kids or grandchildren. Guess to busy easier to go but it. So sad that we lost such great things of the past. Yes we are to busy to enjoy the pleasure of old. Our loss.


    1. Thank you Gloria. I did the same. I was taught how to sew, but it was such an easy thing to purchase ready made. Now, as a grandmother, I try to make things for my daughter and granddaughter just because I can. My eyesight and developing hand tremors tell me I may not be able to for very long.


  5. I marvel at the old order Amish who still sew most if not all their clothing with hand pedaled sewing machines like this. Cookbook author and columnist Lovina Eicher shares frequently about not only her cooking but sewing all these dresses, frequently for weddings where daughters or nieces are table waiters (special honorary assignment at weddings) for friends and relatives. Check out here: http://www.lovinasamishkitchen.com/memories-of-loved-ones-flavor-the-week/


  6. Wonderful stories and memories! My grandmother–my mother’s mother–also sewed with an old-fashioned machine (not as beautiful as yours, I’m sure). She died when I was only a few years old, so I don’t remember her sewing, but I do remember the dresses she made for me and my little sister. I remember two sets of identical jumpers, and when I outgrew mine, my sister got them, so she wore those dresses for a long time! 🙂 (These were just special dresses that she made because she was our grandmother–all the rest of our clothing my mom bought us.) My mom had an old sewing machine–I’m not sure if she still has it or not–but she never learned to sew very well, and I can’t sew at all.


    1. You reminded me of how Grandmother would make me and my older sister matching outfits, but in different colored fabric. We wore them, but being as different as we were, I think we both detested it. Ha!


  7. This post took me back to my childhood in the 40’s. My mother made all my clothes from second hand clothes in the missionary box (my dad was an evangelist, pastor) and from feed sacks. Mother had been given a new Singer electric sewing machine from her mother. I have it today! Thanks for posting this! I enjoyed reading it! 🙂


    1. You are so very welcome and thanks to Marian also for sharing. It is hard to imagine wearing flour sack and feed sacks as clothes, but it was just colorful calico fabric and the dresses were beautiful.

      I had a Great Aunt who made a quilt out of men’s ties that she had collected from the church in a box she left in the back for months. It was a beautiful Dresden Plate styled design.


  8. Reblogged this on Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life and commented:
    I have two sewing machines and apart from curtains and the odd alteration have not made any clothes for many years. Part of it that I really do not need any…..but also I never really had the knack. My eldest sister and my mother could see a design and whip it up or adapt a paper pattern. However, I do make a nifty cushion cover….. Great story about what might become a lost art…


    1. You’re welcome, Bette. My grandmother knew how to make the best of what she had. I saw a halter top in Sax for $250. It was a mere sheer piece of fabric overlaying an opaque one. There was one tie around the neck. Our grandmothers could have whipped that out in less than five minutes. 😉


    1. If you want this wrought iron stand for furniture you can have it. I don’t think it is going to sell. I have had it on the market a long time and there are others that have been listed forever. There are just too many of them. It is here in the garage, if ever you should happen up this way. We are trying to clean out the garage. I used it as a telephone table, back in the days when telephones needed tables. Seriously.


  9. What a wonderful post this is. a remarkable and strong woman, your grandmother. Love the pic of you and your sister picking apples. and yes, I can imagine sewing for the whole family on a pedal-powered machine. My mother did that too.


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