Teacher Gone Sewist
When I was twelve, I picked up my first sewing pattern: an a-line dress, complete with shoulder princess seams and kimono sleeves. . . which I was determined to make out of a knit fabric so slick and silky that it felt like sewing water. Yes, you read all of that correctly, and yes, you're right. . . I was a dodo.
If those terms I just threw at you sound like gibberish (because let's face it, sewing is its own language, and a confusing one at that), essentially what I'm saying is that my ambitious, naive little preteen heart bit off WAY more than I could chew. And even though I stubbornly stumbled my way through to something vaguely resembling a dress, that first attempt put me off sewing for years to come.
Fast forward a decade. I had just graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology & Religion and was determined to establish my independence despite not having any clue how to do so. I found a cheap apartment complete with gaudy furniture from the 80s, puce-colored walls, and a porch freshly refinished with astro turf. I settled in to work out my next steps. A friend suggested that I substitute teach while I searched for full time employment, and as I had already worked in a variety of childcare capacities, that seemed like a good fit. I completed the paperwork and got a subbing job right away.
My first day was a whirlwind. I remember signing in for my subbing badge and walking to meet the sped supervisor. As kids trickled in from breakfast, I recall the supervisor introducing herself and some of the staff, followed immediately by the question "How do you feel about bathroom duty?" Without time for an answer, my student arrived; a second grade boy just a foot shorter than me, nonverbal, a sort of roly poly type. Immediately the boy ran up to us with a PECS book, pointing at a picture of the bathroom. With a tug on my arm, I was launched off my feet toward the restroom, where my new friend burst through the door, promptly ripped off his shirt, and used every urinal in the bathroom before acquiescing to washing his hands. Needless to say, I had one wild ride of a day.
Now, one might think that such a day would put you off teaching. But for whatever reason, after meeting this student (Charlie, we'll call him), I was hooked.
For the next five years of my life, my calendar was flooded with subbing jobs, many of them accompanying Charlie. I got to see him grow, gradually becoming verbal and learning life skills, then moving on to middle school. By the time Charlie left, I had graduated with a Masters in Teaching and was looking for opportunities that would allow me to pursue full time the joy of interacting with individuals with special needs. At that time, I simply couldn’t imagine a life outside of teaching.
I got a full time job at a charter school in St. Louis, Missouri, first as a 4th grade teacher, and the following year as a Learning Support Specialist. I LOVED that job and that community with all my heart. I met educators that floored me with their compassion and ability to inspire, and I met students and families alike who I will love and cherish till the day I die. But then the novel coronavirus spread to the United States, forcing my district to go virtual. And, like so many other educators, I discovered that the demands of teaching, case-managing, coordinating, and all the invisible labors that come with being an educator were no longer sustainable. And confronting that, truly, broke my heart.
The "Great" Transition
As I began the painful process of transitioning out of the classroom, I turned to hobbies that could keep my mind engaged and off of the collective trauma our world was facing. And for whatever reason, the most engaging hobby for me was sewing.
While I had picked up a few projects over the years- pillows, shirts, pants- I still disliked sewing with a spiteful vengeance that kept me from pursuing more involved work. It was a means to an end. But, as our nation stayed inside and socially isolated for the duration of 2020, sewing became (if you’ll pardon the cliche) my saving grace. I delved into mid-century reproduction sewing, historical sewing, and the evolution of the textile industry. Making things with my hands, researching, sharing my discoveries- all of it kept me out of my own head and able to focus on the things that really mattered.
As I continued researching, I learned flat pattern drafting and started making my own clothes again. I hand-sewed every night for hours, making anything I could think of to give to friends and family. Sewing, making, being creative, became a life-sustaining practice that kept me connected to my mom, my friends, and my community even from within the confines of my home. The more I sewed, the more I felt like “me” again; ready to reenter the world of teaching.
Where I Am Now
It's funny how cyclical life can feel at times. Of course, my preteen and pre-career selves had no idea that sewing and teaching would come to play such prominent roles in my life time and time again. But that they did.
The more I felt like "me" again, the more I wanted to return to teaching. More accurately, I wanted to find work that could meld sewing and teaching. Eventually I Googled my way to the City Sewing Room where I started volunteering. I pitched some course offerings and the director, bless her heart, accepted my ideas with grace and encouragement. So, Textiles 101: From Fiber to Fabric, Fitting & Patterning Basics and, my personal favorite, Sewing for Special Needs were born, and a glimmer of hope was restored.
I still teach, but these days you'll likely find me in my sewing studio. At the time of posting this, I am a freelance sewist providing small batch production services, local sewing services, and vintage sewing supplies as The Sustainable Sewing Shop. I have been blessed beyond measure with an amazing family, community, and a 13 year old lab retriever who tests his mortality every day. My story is not over, but thankfully, I now get to share that story and my passions with you.
Thank you for being here.