Over at Conversations in Klal, ProfK writes about whether children (read girls) should be taught basic homemaking skills. In The Fine Art of Being a Balabusta Part I, she concludes that there’s no point teaching girls to sew because the women she knows sew do so mainly for pleasure. Working mothers don’t have time to sew, and even if they did, it doesn’t pay when you factor in time.
She may be right, but I’m still not convinced that teaching children basic sewing and other neglected homemaking skills is a waste of time. By basic I mean two or three types of hand stitches, hemming, mending, and using a sewing machine well enough to make a simple item like a skirt or a pair of pajamas. This only takes a few lessons–probably 10-15 hours total. That’s much less time than it takes to become proficient at a musical instrument. Now there’s a useless skill–but the last time I checked it hasn’t gone out of style.
In colonial times girls began sewing at four years old. Making clothes and linens took up a large chunk of the family’s time and everyone’s help was needed. I’m sure there were a few girls who were hopeless at it. Some people are hopeless at math, but we still teach it to everyone. I’m not saying we should devote the time to sewing that we devote to math, but sewing belongs in the category of things that most people can pick up easily.
The same applies to a wide variety of skills including sports, making home repairs, languages, gardening, financial management, and using computers. If you start early enough, most people will be able to master those skills with a reasonable level of proficiency. But if they aren’t exposed, there’s a good chance that they will never learn. Not because they can’t (they can) but because they see it as something removed from their experience. It’s a question of exposure.
I would bet that 90% of the sewers in ProfK’s community learned to sew either at home or in a high school home-economics class, like I did. I stopped for while, but after I had a few kids I decided I wanted to sew nursing clothes. I already had a sewing machine so I asked a visitor to bring me a good sewing book and some bright, printed fabric, as there wasn’t much selection in my town. (Unfortunately the saleswoman convinced my visitor that solid gray, which looks terrible on me, was best for a beginner.) While reviewing techniques I remembered tips that my mother had taught me about sewing. They weren’t in the book, either. I sewed several outfits for myself and my daughter, and made myself a skirt less than a year ago. I don’t have a good eye and will never be a great seamstress, but I can follow instructions and most of the time that’s enough for excellent results. And a surprising number of my friends sew frequently, especially the ones with daughters.
We don’t know where our daughters and sons will be twenty or thirty years from now. We may think we are preparing them for life by sending them to a computer chug (afterschool activity) instead of a sewing one, but we can’t predict the future of the job market. The skills we teach them as children may serve as an enjoyable hobby during high school. I can think of a few ways that sewing will be useful. Maybe our children will live in an isolated community where it is hard to get clothes. Their financial situation may indeed make sewing economical, or they will turn it into a part-time business. Possibly, like the women I posted about here, they will prefer to wear unique styles. Or they will enjoy sewing so much that they become seamstresses, fashion designers, or quilters (quilting has become a serious art form). Even if they never pick up a needle again, they have had the satisfaction of wearing something they made themselves.
In our world it’s unrealistic to expect all children to learn to sew–I only bring it up as an example. But we should be providing our children with a variety of practical skills even if not every one will turn out to be useful later in life.