Never Sew With A Sink Full Of Dirty Dishes…

A friend shared the above with me on Facebook. I couldn’t not share here. I tried and failed to trace source and permission, so if this is yours – get in touch. Personally, I always have hair, powder and lipstick in order when I sit down at my sewing machine. What? You don’t?!

I also saw this article in The Washington Post about a wedding dress handed down three generations and worn by seven different women. (If you click the link, you have to wait impatiently for 30 seconds to get past the ad.) I know, I know – I should find it all lovely. But, honestly? I kept thinking, ‘What if you were the one woman who didn’t fit the dress?’ Would there be family pressure to starve yourself into it? Or ‘What if you didn’t want to wear it?’ Long-term readers know what I’m like about being told what to do! What do you think? Sweet or oppressive?

Finally, I’ve taken receipt of a rather exciting parcel that is going to lead to a rather exciting giveaway extravaganza which is going to be lots of fun! Keep reading…

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58 Responses to Never Sew With A Sink Full Of Dirty Dishes…

  1. Bold Sewist says:

    Wow – if I took all those tips I’d be able to do even less sewing than I do now! Beds, dishes, nice dress, full make up … it’s a lot to live up to!

  2. Anne says:

    Crumbs, if I had to do all that before I started sewing, I’d never get any sewing done! 😀

  3. Melody says:

    Oooh, I cringed.
    Although I love excerpts of the past such as these, I do feel grateful I’m in a world where women aren’t quite oppressed as they once were – I mean, should I get visitors whilst sewing, I’m making no effort to put a bra on or brush my hair, and they’d have to talk over the machine!!

  4. Gillian says:

    LOL – Well, my Dad’s family has one wedding dress that has been worn by 4 of 5 women over three generations… All of them tall and thin enough to fit in the lovely satin dress! On the other side, my Granny and Mom wore the same dress, and I could have been the third generation if I weighted 30 pounds less! I didn’t feel any pressure to wear either dress, partly because my family is awesome like that, and partly because it was clear that I’d never fit them! I think there might have been more pressure (from myself, at least) if I had fit the dresses. I’ve always loved the tradition though! I did have a lace hankie tucked in my dress that has accompanied about 5 generations of my family. That was the perfect amount of tradition for me – Something no one could see, but I knew about!

  5. spikeabell says:

    And why are we chalking our fingers? Same to all of the above, chores come last…unless I really need the sink!

  6. annie says:

    Hilarious. My mom got a new machine in 1951, a Singer, electric, in a lovely table. She had used a treadle up to that point. I remember the knee lever to operate it. Wish that was still an option. At least it wouldn’t slide all over the floor. But to get to the point. I am sure her book of directions contained that advice. Thank God we don’t have to live it that world anymore. What a nightmare!

  7. alibobs says:

    Surely you only do housework when there is no sewing to do? Maybe it is just my sewing techniques, but I have to vacuum after sewing as I get so much thread every where.

  8. ohh dear god, I dread to think what the sewing masses of 1949 would think ofmy sewing habits, most of the time i’m only half dressed as it makes trying on and fitting so much quicker

  9. sewing is my housework avoidance task!

  10. Graca says:

    What the fudge! French chalk for dusting your fingers? I’ve been doing it all wrong.

  11. Jenn-NY says:

    Re Wedding Dresses: Considering the changes in fashion, there is a strong likelihood that at least one of the 7 women looked pretty darn frumpy at her wedding.
    I wouldn’t go for it myself, in part because I’m not a traditionalist and tend to think of weddings dresses as personal expression. (Wore a turquoise vintage dress to my own). Also, I’m have the opposite body type from my mother and am a giant compared to both of my petite grandmothers. An impossible alterations job!

  12. Vicki Kate says:

    Another half dressed whilst sewing confession here! And, what on earth is the chalk for? Wouldn’t it leave marks all over the fabric?! As you can tell, I’m clueless as to why it’s so important.
    And beds and sinks of dishes, pah. I get limited sewing time so they can wait!

  13. Re: that wedding dress, I don’t like feeling obligated to do anything! I guess it works if all the women like a similar traditional wedding. But somehow I don’t think the mini-dress my mother wore as a 19-year-old bride in 1969 would have been the best choice for me when I got married in 2003 at age 34. 🙂

  14. Jacq C says:

    Oh blimey, I’m another ‘barely dressed’ sewer, I find my pjs are just the perfect thing for quick changes when trying on (maybe that’s OK because I made them for your sewalong)! I do hoover (but only so the cat doesn’t stand on pins, I seem to be incapable of getting them in the pin cushion. Oh and I have the iron out but only for pressing so that probably doesn’t count either. Any visitors during precious crafting time can fend for themselves! 🙂

  15. So I’m in the midst of sewing, took a little break to think for a minute. I am presently wearing my pajama party bottoms and a shelf bra tank and I am frankly beyond a size where that shelf bra is helping much. I have not had a shower yet today and it’s 2:30 in the afternoon. My bed is most definitely not made and I guess the best housework I’ve done today is turning the dishwasher on. I am soooooo not that woman.

    As for the wedding dress, having the option to wear it is lovely. Being forced to wear it is not. I love what Fehr Trade did with her grandmothers dress to make it her own. There was no way I was fitting more than one leg and half a breast in my mom’s dress.

    • LinB says:

      Oh, I know what you mean! My mother weighed less than 90 pounds when she married — my father could circle her waist with his hands. I might have been able to get the waist pulled over my thigh, but it would not have gone any further.

  16. This post and the comments have me grinning, agreeing and thankful I can live and sew in a slightly slovenly state without bringing an intervention upon myself!

    I was horrifed when offered my aunt’s wedding dress which my mother had borrowed for her wedding. My parents’ marriage was a train wreck so even if I’d liked the dress I wouldn’t have wanted to use it. Luckily my declining of the offer was accepted without offense!

  17. rachel says:

    I’m with everyone else – you’ve got to sew in your underwear! Comfortable and perfect for fitting. It is winter here so I usually chuck a beautiful pink fleecy dressing gown with butterflies over the top. Glamour-Central here.

    • rachel says:

      Forgot to say that while I’m sewing, my husband is usually doing the dishes and cooking. Take that Singer instructions!

      • Yes, my boyfriend has taken on many more cooking duties since I started sewing. Sewing machines are feminist weapons of mass destruction! I should have started sewing 20 years ago!!!

  18. MrsC says:

    I read the article and looked at the photos and that dress was in and out and up and down and had the sleeves altered and put back, the lot.I think it helps that the style is about as timelessly classic as a wedding dress can ever be – very similar to Kate Middleton’s actually! Also the lace is a classic type and very similar ones would have been available all along for adjustments etc. Plus the original dressmaker would have handed over a bag of the leftover fabric and lace as that was once standard practice.
    My mother wore a dress with a very similar bodice in 1959, and the only person to ever fit it since was a friend of my sister’s, when she was 12!!
    As for sewing etiquette, I do all my sewing these days under the watchful eye of the public as my sewing machine is in our shop now. So, sewing in my underwear is no longer an option! 😉 Mind you mostly I’ve been making quilts and craft items so my rationale would have been more about lifestyle choice than fitting necessity 😉

  19. Uta says:

    I never have lipstick on these days, so there’s hardly any sewing going on here… Interesting thoughts on the wedding dress; IMO there’s two incompatible concepts regarding weddings: either you think it’s a personal expression aka as “your day”, or you think it’s a family affair. If you think the latter which I happen to do, you tend to be happy if the dress is taken care of and everyone satisfied. (My mom cut up her wedding dress for christening gowns so I had to find someone else’s pre-owned/-loved dress!).

  20. pat says:

    When I learned how to sew I forgot how to cook and clean. Lucky for me my son is a chef. I vacuum only for pin and thread pick up because I don’t want my dog to get sick. As far as clothes go, my pj’s are like a flag to friends and neighbors that I’m on a sewing roll and stay out of my way. I wouldn’t want to wear someone else’s wedding gown. I got married in jeans and a t-shirt and rode my Harley to the wedding ceremony. It was relaxed and fun and I can wear my wedding “dress” any time I like.

  21. Kat says:

    I wear my pearls underneath my pjs. You doesn’t?

    I wear whatever’s comfortable and easy to get off when sewing otherwise it gets tiring to try your garments on especially if its a dress. Oh and I’ve learnt the hard way not to wear jewellery when sewing.

    • Susan says:

      I wore my pearls with my pj’s last night, but only because I forgot to take them off. Housework happens when I’ve exhausted all other possibilities, or visitors are coming!

  22. grenouille78 says:

    That little excerpt is so jaw-droppingly absurd, it’s hard to believe that real people took it seriously at one point. It is awfully hilarious, though. Why would I want to waste precious sewing time by cleaning the house? I have three kids; the mess will be back before I can sit down. And personally, I’m never “fearful” of my husband coming home. Yikes!

  23. Helen says:

    I love this quote, though I can’t recall where it comes from…..

    “The only place housework comes before sewing is in the dictionary”


  24. chrisf53 says:

    I enjoyed the excerpt ‘Never sew with a sinkful of dirty dishes’. While I’m grateful that we live in more enlightened times re housework, make-up and husbands, I have sympathy with the notion of ‘mental preparation’ and not approaching sewing ‘with a sigh or lackadaisically’. My most successful sewing does seem to happen when I’m well prepared, not rushing or stressed about anything. Now if you’ll excuse me I must powder my nose before I finish stitching the ruffles onto my new pinny!

    • Interestingly, several writer friends on Facebook commented on the Singer extract saying that they too like to be ‘mentally prepared’ for the day of creating at the desk. I think for much of the silly sexism of this extract, there is a nugget of truth to be mined.

  25. Molly says:

    I was going to say “I think it might be from the Singer Sewing book, will check my copy.” then realised that little titbit of info is on the photo. It does go on in the book to explain that if you are look neat and nicely made up, you will feel much more positive when you are fitting your garments than when you are having a bad hair / bad skin / fat day and you hate your own reflection, which might cause you to throw away your sewing thinking it unflattering, when there is really nothing wrong with it… makes sense to me! Also the chalk dust is to help with build up of oils and sweat on the hands and fingertips which could spoil your fabric (its the same stuff rock-climbers use).

    Recently, I had the thought that an ideal sewing garment would be a jersey wrap tunic / dress. Comfortable to wear and quick and easy to put on and take off for fitting (and respectable enough should your husband come home unannounced, lol!). My sewing room is a bit too cold and I once actually sat sewing in one of the period puritan gowns I was making. I was testing it for range of movement, but I was so warm and comfortable I did actually joke about making one as a “sewing dress”.

    On the topic of wedding dresses, when my cousin got married, her dress was so expensive her father only agreed to buy it if her sister wore it too. I think her sister vowed that day that she would never marry. It was completely impractical anyway, one was 8 inches taller than the other and solid muscle while the other petite, both looked completely different and it was not the right style for the younger sister. When she got married (about 15 years later), she bought her own dress 🙂 I think the tradition of a family wedding dress, much like engagement rings and christening gowns is lovely and must be very meaningful, but it won’t work for a lot of people, not just size differences but styles and tastes, etc. My mother married in a russet coloured, fox-trimmed tweed suit. I own the suit now but I would never wear it for my own wedding, I would want something “uniquely me” and neither my married sister nor my sister getting married next year have any interest in wearing it, they have their “dream dresses”.

    • Molly says:

      P.S. I have not been sewing this last fortnight as I have been trying to force myself to tidy out my workspace and the bedrooms which desperately need doing. My reward was being able to sit down, knowing it is done and sew to my hearts content. I caved on Wednesday and spent the day sewing a toile amid the clutter because I needed to do it badly!

  26. Sigrid says:

    Well, if I followed that advice, I would never do any sewing. I love the idea, too, that you have to watch out for your husband in case he were to catch sight of you in an moment of unsuspecting personal disorder. I like to sew in my underwear anyway so that I am more likely to test the fit of the garment more often. I don’t think my hubby minds one bit!

    But, I do find that when my surroundings are more orderly, I am more able to focus on my project. And, like most people, I do most of my sewing at the dining room table or in my bedroom, so I am trying to do more straightening before I start making a big mess with a new project.

    • MrsC says:

      I think it also says a lot about reality that most husbands would be only too pleased to come home to a dishevelled wife in her underwear. The ensuing argument would be about what happens next!!

  27. poppykettle says:

    haha – love the excerpt 🙂

  28. I am going to be the odd one out really. I do the dishes usually before I start sewing, simply because a, I sew on the dining table so it actually needs to be clean for me to do any sewing and b, I am then calmer and don’t feel like I am supposed to to something else and thus don’t rush through things.

    I won’t go as far as clean the floors or anything, but there is a certain routine that I feel like I need to do, before I indulge in sewing 🙂

  29. Sarah says:

    Haha, I do the opposite! Sometimes to get some sewing in I do it in my pjs…..Or else I end up cleaning the house god forbid!

  30. Lipstick? No. Mental clarity? Helpful. I find if I’m unfocused or trying to work in a mess I make mistakes and get flustered. But that only extends to the mess in the sewing room. The rest of the house? Why, there are two other adults (well, almost) here who are quite capable of cleaning up if they think the present level of cleanliness is unacceptable. If they don’t, I reckon I shouldn’t have to either because clearly it’s not a problem. Back to the sewing!

    Regarding the wedding dress, I would have liked to have worn my mother’s but I was a bit larger. I wore it as a theatrical costume about 10 years earlier. I’ve a cousin who wore her mother-in-law’s very lovely wedding gown, with a couple of butterflies and bows magicked up out of lace to cover little spots the moths had got to. One was from a thinner era, the other simply very young and not yet too large. Personal choice, I think; and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone telling me I could or couldn’t (or should or shouldn’t) wear at my own wedding

  31. anne says:

    He he what a great post! personally tea and chocolate biscuits are all the prep I need …

  32. Kirsty S says:

    I must admit I am in the ‘relatively tidy’ kitchen helps with sewing or other past time arena. I think it comes from intense gardening – coming in at the end of a day happy, tired and muddy and having to tidy the kitchen before you can eat is a pest. So, now, at the start of a sewing or gardening day I load the dishwasher, the clothes washing machine, and if I’m going outside, set the robot vacuum cleaner going.
    My favourite tidying time? When a sewing project is finished and I can gather up loose threads and scraps of fabric, and know the space is ready for the next project.
    I love the idea of a jersey wrap dress as a perfect sewing outfit that Molly suggested above.

    • Molly says:

      I love the idea of a robot vacuum cleaner! All too often I sigh when I see the vacuum cleaner and think, “I really must hoover the floors”, there’s the perfect solution 🙂

  33. That little snippet made me smile, and so did all of the responses! I fall into the camp of my housekeeping having suffered since I took up sewing. It doesn’t help that I don’t have a dedicated sewing space and I don’t have a great deal of space all round so my sewing machine is set up on a table in the living room and the chairs around it house my work in progress and fabric and mending. Luckily Nic and I have a household agreement that he looks after the washing up and most of the cooking and I look after the laundry and hoovering – both of which I do a lot less frequently than I ought to. But I think he lives with that because sewing puts me in such a good mood!

    As to the other part of it – well, I can’t sew in my pyajamas. This is mainly because I have the worse bedhead ever – think Robert Smith’s hair got in a fight with Siouxsie Sioux’s hair, in the rain – which is surprising because I could never get that much volume in my hair on purpose?! Anyway, I can’t settle to do anything with dirty hair, so I have to get washed and dressed before I sit down at the machine. If only I could apply this fastidiousness to any other aspect of my life!

  34. Rehanon says:

    I wear whatever I want to enthuse the dress with. So if I’m making something that I want too ooze fabulousness I sew in heels with a cocktail 😉 That said the norm is slippers and turban. Although I’m a mess monster and have the ability to send a room into chaos in under 5 mins I do a quick whip round before I do just about anything but I’m happy to let things pile up around me until I’m finished. My only worry is I’ll disappear under a pile of fabric scraps and wool :S

  35. Janice A. says:

    The quote is from Mary Brooks Picken . She was author of various editions of Singer Sewing Book throughout 1940s and 50s. She was a highly respected practitioner of the subject. You should def. google Amy Barrickman ( who has made a study of her work ) to get some appreciation of what she achieved. There is more than a grain of truth and sense in what she says – pity I dont live up to it as much as I would like ( typing here in my ancient red fleece dressing gown)


  36. I think the wedding dress thing is a little sweet, but I’m so not a traditional person that the idea of that within my own family is pretty laughable. I’d rather everyone be able to do their own thing and not fear family pressure to wear/do something they didn’t want to. 😛

    I love the idea that the chores are urgent, too. OMG there are dishes in the sink, I have to run and wash them stat, no time to finish my reply!

  37. Amy says:

    Haha, if I waited until all my chores were done before I did any sewing, I’d literally never get my machine out of its cover! Sometimes I prefer to sew when the lounge is untidy, because then when I inevitably get off cuts of thread and velvet fuzz over everything, I don’t feel so guilty about it!

  38. Alice says:

    Even if I loved the family wedding dress, I wouldn’t wear it. I’m so contrary I don’t even do what I tell myself to do!

    But I always have my lipstick and powder in order…

  39. Jacq C says:

    Having laughingly dismissed this at first I decided to conduct an extremely scientific experiment yesterday:
    I made sure the house was clean and tidy before I started to sew (OK, this might have something to do with the fact that it was cleaned on Sunday because my in-laws came for lunch so I just loaded the dishwashwer and put a load of washing in but it’s a start);
    I put on shorts and a t-shirt rather than beavering away and realising I was still in pjs at lunchtime (it helped that I’m making a dressing gown for my SIL so didn’t really need to try stuff on);
    I put my hair up (practical) and put some mascara on (how can you wear lipstick when you sew? I cannot be the only person ith a mouthful of pins!);
    So, was I more productive?
    Well, no … But that’s because friends rang and I rushed out to have lunch with them. And, as a direct result of my efforts, I did not find myself sitting in a cafe in my pjs. So I’m now totally converted, my husband said I’m a domestic goddess but I think I detected a little smirk 🙂

  40. symondezyn says:

    Actually I find myself relating to that advice, because while admittedly I’m usually in my jams whilst sewing, I do find I need to have my house tidy, my affairs in order, and chores all done before I can enjoy myself or focus doing anything relaxing 🙂

    That said, I pity anyone who comes to my door because I’m ALWAYS in a shameful state! LOL… makeup at home… get real! They’re lucky if my hair is brushed! bahahaha!

    That box of patterns looks enticing… when do we get to see what’s in there? 😀

  41. Elisalex says:

    Aaaaah hilarious!! Pinned it, facebooked it, read it out to everyone in the house – too good not to share. Thank you!

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