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Celebrate Your Sewing and Crafting Heritage

Is sewing a part of your family heritage? This is Opal Meyers, my great-grandmother. She’s in the center of the photo in the gingham dress and fantastic lipstick. She worked at the M. Fines & Sons shirt factory in Paducah, KY, from the 1930s until 1948. Her sister Beulah and her brother Ray worked at the factory with her. The factory made flannel work shirts. M. Fines & Sons also had Louisville, Clarksville, and New Albany factories. Did any of your family work there?

In college, I interviewed GeeGee about working in the factory for a class project. What I remember the most about that interview was her pride in her craft. She talked about how the most skilled seamstresses sewed the most detailed pieces! She spoke of the “the girls” she worked with and the “bundle boys” that would bring the next stack of work to their machines.

I knew how to sew in college, but it wasn’t my passion yet. I was more interested in her story as a single mom working in a factory during the 30s and 40s. My grandmother said that when she was a little girl, her mother would see a dress in a store window and come home and sew an exact copy! She left the factory in 1948 as a “flap stitcher” and claimed $1,673 on her tax return that year.

GeeGee passed away shortly after that interview. I would give anything to have a copy of it, but it was early in the days of MP3 files, and it is lost to the universe. When I graduated college, my grandmother gave me the framed picture below. It is a 1947 photo of the factory employees and one of my most prized possessions.

I have spent so much time pouring over this photo, studying the faces and clothing of those factory workers. A friend and I made up names and “back stories” for each woman in the photo. I love seeing groupings of friends and sisters clumped together in the picture. I love looking at the details on the clothing. There are many dresses, but in 1947, you see some trousers!

When I sew, I always think of my great-grandmother. There are so many questions I have wanted to ask her over the years. When I finish a project, I know she would appreciate the hard work that went into it. I don’t have any garments she sewed, but I have her prized Singer sewing machine!

Sewing, or any craft, has always strengthened the bonds of women. From quilting bees in rural areas to sewing a dress for a special occasion, women have shared in planning and executing a project together. As the world has evolved to spend more time using screens and less time doing things with our hands, we have lost some of that camaraderie. That is one of the main reasons I wanted to open a sewing school…to create a community of people keeping those crafts alive and to build a tribe of people who find satisfaction in making. We get to experience some of that magic in this studio on nights when everyone heads down and focused on their project. There is no place I’d rather be!


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