I have always loved clothing—the history of, trends, function, making of—so I thought creating “The Culture of Clothing” Honors seminar would be the perfect opportunity for me to share one of my passions. I especially wanted students to have a direct learning experience to understand how much time it takes to sew something by hand, which many of our foremothers and sisters had to do. I consider handsewn garments to be an art form and have had the pleasure of learning how to sew from my mother, who was an excellent seamstress. She made her own clothes, upholstery, curtains—and even her beautiful satin wedding dress (circa 1949).
Throughout the seminar we discussed sustainability in apparel, the history of clothing, ethnic costumes, body adornment, clothes worn for special occasions, traditions and human rights issues. Additionally, students were each given a packet of a 36-inch square piece of fabric, a spool of thread and a needle. They were asked to sew a hem around the piece of fabric with either a whip stitch or an under-over stitch and then create a piece of clothing, adding only minimal items.
What they created made me so pleased and touched, as we utilized fabric that my mother used to make me dresses when I was a young girl. It was absolutely wonderful to hear their stories of fashioning aprons, shawls, head scarves, scrunchies, a book bag, a halter top, a skirt and hair bows. Some students even enlisted the help of their mothers or grandmothers, so we had generations of women involved.
The learning experience from this sewing project was so rich and had so many levels. Some students didn't know how to sew anything at the beginning, others reconnected with a past hobby, many spent rewarding time with close relatives and still another student said she found a new relaxation technique. Each student mentioned what an appreciation they have now for handsewn garments.
It was my absolute pleasure to share this Honors Seminar, “The Culture of Clothing,” with these talented students. They touched my heart and exceeded my expectations in every aspect. As one student wrote in an essay, “I had such an amazing time in this course, and I believe that I will be able to think more deeply about my clothing choices from now on.”
Photo Credit: Kristina Arwood
Lisa Beutler Jones teaches students in her Honors Seminar, "The Culture of Clothing"