We never forget those who taught us to sew. In a way, it’s like learning to manifest your creativity. Being handed the keys to unleash your imagination. Liberation in the form of fabric and thread.
I was taught to sew by my mother. Her mother taught her, and her mother's mother taught my grandmother. Sewing has been passed down from generation to generation to generation. It's always been something to share among the women in our family. It's part of our legacy.
I started sewing when I was five years old and, to be quite honest, I despised it. Even at that young age, I wanted to be an expert without having the experience to become one. I wanted my hands to flow knowingly over the fabric and my eyes to catch every detail. I wanted to be able to sew a straight line. I wanted to have all the expertise of my seamstress mother, despite being in Kindergarten. I laugh when I think about it now, but I know I still have that stubborn streak.
As I aged, I grew my knowledge of sewing through summer camps and projects with my mother's careful eye. Unfinished seams were not an option. Aprons, potholders, and pillow cases danced in my dreams. I learned to slice through fabric with her sacred ‘fabric ONLY scissors' and found buttons, despite them being hidden in the oh-so-deceiving Danish butter cookie tins.
When I got to college I studied clothing and textile design. By then I had fallen in love with the feeling of textiles. I loved to run my hands over fabrics—to get acquainted with who they were. At this time, there would be a pivotal moment in my making (although, of course, I didn't know it). My favorite class during my upper educational courses was titled: The History of Fashion. Throughout it, we studied various clothing styles from each era. I soaked up every minute of the lectures. I poured over the required reading far longer than I needed to. I closed my eyes wondering what it felt like to wear colorful gowns and cinched up corsets.
Little did I know, ten years later, I would be recreating the styles I was falling in love with. But first, there would be an unexpected upset in my life’s events.
While we never forget our greatest moments, we also never forget those horrific ones when time stands still. When I got the phone call that my mother had tested positive for breast cancer, my world not only stopped--it flipped upside down. In a lot of ways, I shifted into survival mode. I stopped investing in the things that brought me joy, and I shifted focus to the people around me. Time with those I loved never felt like enough.
In the hundreds of phone calls and moments of family gathering around each other, little things like sewing didn’t seem important. Creating didn’t seem important. Those months, which turned into years of her after-care, largely blur together for me now.
On the other side of my mother’s recovery from breast cancer, we have so many reasons to celebrate. We were reminded of the importance of our legacies. They hold us together with strands that stretch beyond time or even death.
Once my mother’s health stabilized, I started to feel that familiar yearning to create again. I began to remember how important sewing had been to me and explored the idea of picking it up again. It took me a while. I had to re-learn how to allow myself to see a challenge and think “I could make that.” After years of needing to focus my attention elsewhere, I started to re-think what it meant to create. I wanted to sew things that were impactful...and I was going to need to pick up some new supplies to do it.
I remember standing in the aisle of my local fabric store about to buy my own pair of fabric scissors. As any sewer knows, this is a pivotal moment because these scissors will guide you through your sewing journey. Scissors help us manifest the magic of our imaginations. Standing in the aisle I saw a flash of pink on the display. I reached for it and then noticed the ribbon. In a lot of ways seeing the Fiskars Breast Cancer Awareness scissors seemed like the universe was saying, “It’s okay to begin your journey again.”
Fast forward five years and I still have these scissors on my desk. They still accompany me on my creative adventures through historical fabrics and frills. Now, every item I make tells a story.
Beyond my day-to-day creations of corsets, bodices, skirts, and dresses, I now lead others in sewing as a way to recenter and rediscover. Quarterly I lead a group of hundreds of makers as we sew through the same historically inspired pattern, in tandem, to create garment pieces. We encourage and support each other through each of our free ‘sew-alongs’ and I can’t help but think this is what I was meant to do. I'm passing on a legacy. It looks different this generation, but it continues in the same spirit that it always has—one cut and stitch at a time.
About the author: Emilee (@ourshieldmaiden on Instagram, Twitter and TikTok) is a cosplayer, historical costume maker, and advocate. She believes in accessibility for all and works to build a stronger community by hosting free quarterly sew-alongs. Find out more on her website www.ourshieldmaiden.com