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The Fiber of My Being With Anita Grossman Solomon

I am the eldest of six children. We grew up during a fine time for Niagara Falls, NY. Construction had begun a few miles away on the hydroelectric power plant just as I began to explore my one block long street of McKinley Avenue. Backyards of homes on the right and left of ours were my playground. I was the first child in years to be raised on the block. My playmates were assorted neighboring grandmothers who let me rummage through their kitchens, explore their grown daughters’ bedrooms and pretended to enjoy playing the board game Candyland with me.

Quilter Anita Grossman Solomon as a young girlOne day the key to the kingdom opened. I was given permission to cross the street by myself to visit with Mrs. Johnson. She was a transplanted New England schoolteacher. Had you then asked me, a 5-year-old, what her age was, I’d have guessed her to be 100 years old because of her silky white pin curls, tennis shoes and blousy cotton gingham housedresses.

I had the best time in her second floor sewing room peering through the window and working beside her. She sewed on a treadle machine. I retrieved the pins that fell to wood floor. These days, my picker–upper is this telescoping magnet. Metal studs in my sewing room wall make for handy storage.

Fabric Picker Upper Picker-Upper

Mrs. Johnson’s scrap pile never diminished. I sewed Yo-Yos by hand beside her. I loved picking out the fabric circles to sew. They’d been cut into three diameters with paper templates and straight pins. We sewed for her Unitarian Church’s annual fall bazaar. A few years later she explained short division to me weeks before my class began long division.

Yo-Yo Doll

At some point a treadle machine appeared in our family’s living room. I took lessons at the Singer Sewing Center on Falls Street and managed to sew granny dresses on it.

Mrs. Johnson’s refrigerator, a towering electrified wooden icebox, filled her kitchen’s anteroom. That her weekly grocery order was delivered by a small specialty grocer bewildered me. She didn’t have a car; she rented out her detached garage. Brilliantly colored nasturtium beds flanked one side of the driveway. Those flowers likely account for my fondness of all things red and orange. During the summer her orders included a six-pack carton of splits (7 oz glass bottles) of Coca-Cola for me. I felt special. (Should my middle aged brothers and sisters read this column, finding out now about the Cokes will make them crazy with envy.)

Recently I pulled up images of Yo-Yo dolls I’d clipped from eBay in 2005. That was the year my husband was treated for a final illness. The sight of those dolls probably put me in a good place then.

Without any contributions from me, my husband penned his obituary which appeared later that year in the New York Times. He wrote “…Loving husband of Anita Grossman Solomon, author and quilter…”

Soon I’ll tell you how, by happenstance on October 27, 1990, I became a Quilter.

I’d love to hear your story! Please share in the comments how you were introduced to the wonderful world of sewing.

About the author

Quilter Anita Grossman SolomonAnita Grossman Solomon is a full-time quilter, author and Craftsy instructor. Her quilts have been displayed everywhere, from the ceiling of the International Quilt Festival in Houston to an enormous screen high above Times Square in New York City.

In this brand new blog series, she’ll dive into the emotional and often humorous aspects of being a maker. Subscribe to the Craftsy Quilting Blog today to follow along, and enjoy personalized instruction from Anita in her popular Craftsy class Traditional Blocks Made Simple.

10 Comments

Kathy Foster

Up until age 6, my mother had always made my clothes. On my 6th birthday, she handed me some wonderful blue (I loved blue) fabric, and said that from now on, if I wanted new clothes I would need to know how to make them. I can still remember the feel of the machine as I made shorts and a sleeveless shirt (collar, buttons and all), and the pride I felt every time I wore them. I feel that same pride today every time I finish a new quilt or project, and feel my mom looking down at me and saying, “look at that, you made it all yourself” just like she did back then…

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Jen

My mom was a home economics teacher for our local middle school. She would bring home the students’ seeing projects and pick out puckered stitches and other errors at the kitchen table. I started seeing dresses for my Barbie dolls at age eight. For s high school graduation gift, my grandmother gave me a sewing machine. In college I made myself s few shirts and skirts and my roommates were incredibly impressed! I am still learning a lot about sewing but I enjoy making things for my children and friends now.

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Mary Grady

My mom loved sewing so my dad would call the Singer Sewing Center and ask them to send out the latest and greatest, but Mom never seemed to find the right one. In the meantime, my dad would show me, only 5 or 6 years old, how to operate the visiting machine. This gave me a background in how to operate a machine, but didn’t really pique an interest. However, the first wrap-around skirt that I saw was the spark.

When I was 11, Betty Holland wore a wrap-around skirt to school. She was a trendsetter. This was the first one we’d ever seen and I was enthralled. I was certain that if I had a skirt like that, my world would be complete. It was the garment that would launch me as the most stylish girl in my class. After school, I hurried home to ask my mom to please, oh please, make me a wrap-around skirt. Much to my dismay, my mom told me no. With tremendous regret in her voice, she explained that I was the oldest of 3 girls so everything she made for me had to be of such style and quality that it would still be in vogue when my sisters wore the clothing. While she thought the wrap-around skirt was cute, she was certain it was just a fad that would pass in a few weeks and she couldn’t spend valuable sewing time on something like that. I was devastated, but knew she was right.

A little later, as I helped her fix supper, she seemed in deep thought and finally said “You know, that wrap-around skirt wouldn’t be hard to make. I bet you could make it and of course, that would solve the problem of me spending time on it…” I leaped at the opportunity, asking when we could go to the fabric store and gushing with ideas for how the skirt should look. We made plans for after school the next day and I could barely tolerate school that day. We went to the fabric store, finding just the right pattern first and then lovingly discussing every possibility in the store. I was so excited at the prospect of owning a wrap-around skirt that I failed to notice that I also agreed to make one that was lined and to make the matching blouse for the skirt. That night I whizzed through my homework so that I could start cutting out my new garments. I was hooked. I made that outfit and many more after that. Forty years later, as I was telling someone this story, I realized that in a short time after I made my first wrap-around skirt, my mother was turning them out for all of us and wore them as if they were a “uniform” for her. Obviously, my mom never thought they were a fad, but was smart enough to recognize an opportunity to entice her daughter to learn something that would be a gift for the rest of my life. What a brilliant woman and what an awesome gift!

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Janis Roelofson Williams

My mom made most all of our clothes. I wanted to learn how to sew, first I made a stuffed dog – designed the pattern myself. Next we got a pattern and fabric for a robe that I made for myself. My mom enrolled me in 4-H and the job at hand was to make a gathered skirt. Unfortunately a plaid fabric was chosen and I didn’t want to match the plaid but I had to. Then the gathering threads kept breaking, so I dropped out of that project. After a move from Michigan to Arizona I finally finished that skirt in 8th grade home economics with an “A”! I made many of my outfits in high school, even put on a style show for the women’s club of clothes I had made during my senior year. I became a Home Economics teacher in 1970. It is sad that in 1975 the laws changed regarding not discriminating by sex that home ec/ shop became electives instead of requirements in junior high schools. I think it would have been better if both sexes were required to take both home ec and shop instead of dropping them.

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Mariannr

Hi Anita, when I first saw your name I thought you were Anita Grossman that I graduated from high school with. Her grandmother owned a fabric and notions store in New Haven, CT. I used to go to her store often to pick up fabric or buttons, threads, etc. Anyway, I began sewing when I was around 10 years old. I used to sew clothes for my Barbie dolls along with a friend from my neighborhood. In my early teens I started making my own clothes. I made dresses, skirts, pants and women’s suits (jacket and skirt). I even sewed a very close childhood friend, her prom dress (1970). I loved sewing. I haven’t done it in years. Thank you for your blog. It was fascinating to read how you began sewing.

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Brita

What a delightful story. I remembered my Mom teaching me many stitches of embroidery, knitting and crocheting, and finally, sewing, first on her treadle, then on an electric sewing machine. What a lovely trip down memory lane. Eager to hear how the quilting journey began.

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Gayann Kaiser Tipton

I can’t remember a time in my life that didn’t involve sewing. I had few clothes that weren’t handmade, but most were, usually by my grandmother. If Grandma wasn’t in the kitchen she had a needle in her hand. My first sewing project included a large darning needle, so I could thread it myself I’m sure, and a jar of buttons. It wasn’t long before Grandma would let me sew scraps together to make my own doll quilts. One of my fondest childhood memories is sitting under the quilt stretched out on her quilting frames. When she had a quilt “in” her neighbors would come for club, bringing their needles and thimbles, along with a tasty addition to the meal. I would sit among their feet watching their fingers dance as the needles darted in and out of the fabric canopy above.
Grandma taught me how to use her treadle sewing machine as I started to sew my own clothing. Through the years I’ve created unique wardrobes and costumes for my family. But I still am called to combine beautiful fabrics into art forms much as Grandma did.
I do have my own creations and a lovely electric sewing machine now, but some of my greatest treasures include the very quilts I watched her create and the Singer treadle machine she used. Now I sew quilts for my own grandchildren, but I love to pull out the few really old ones that were pieced from the scraps of my kindergarten clothing.

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Christina

Anita, I adore your tale and it makes me feel warm and fuzzy. Your husband is a very special man who watches over you still… I am sure of it. 🙂
I didn’t get into sewing until my mid-30’s. Now I remember all the clothes my mother sewed. She had a featherweight and then another Singer(probably 401A). Dresses, a rabbit fur bikini for my oldest sister 🙂 and so much more. I didn’t appreciate her skills/talent then, but I do now.
Thanks for sharing one of your stories.
Christina

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Barbism

Anita, thank you for sharing your special memories. The fond ones and the heartbreaking ones, alike.

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Diane

We had an old Singer sewing machine and one day my mom sat down at it and made me a corduroy jumper, and after that she made me a few dresses. I’d never seen her sew anything before that. I asked if she could teach me to sew and she did. It was 1963 and my first project was knee length shorts with a “skirt” on top – the skirt was actually 4 open panels. Three years later I was making empire waist dresses, blousy tops and by the time I had children I was making clothes for them. I had a friend who really knew how to sew (I was truly an amateur when I met her) and she gave me many many pointers. Made my first quilt, even though I didn’t realize that was what I was doing, in 1982. In 1992 I took a sewing class (making a fancy vest) at the local quilt shop, where I was introduced to the quilting class for beginners. Took that class and found my one true love – quilting! Now, I have a huge fabric stash – my kids are grown and I have 2 large closets and a storage cabinet chock full. I keep telling myself, “NO MORE FABRIC” but then I see something I just can’t walk away from.

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