Sewing Lessons


“Mom, is boning hard?” I ask while jumping in my car, frantically rushing to the fabric store.

“What?” she asks. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine, but I’m trying to make that vintage style dress I brought home to make at Christmas and apparently it has boning. Is that hard?” I throw my car into gear and rush to the freeway entrance.

“Yes, boning is very hard, why don’t you just wait until you come home and we’ll try to make it again?” she says, subtly reminding me how infrequently I visit.

“I can’t. I want to wear it for Brent’s brother’s wedding next week.”

“Next week! Libby how are you going to make a dress that complicated in less than a week?”

“I don’t have a job. I learned how to procrastinate from you.”

“Well, I guess you can try it, but it’s a pain in the ass.” She lets out an exhausted sigh knowing that she’ll be on the phone the entire time trying to explain how to do it.

When I was in fourth grade, local 4-H leaders came to our class to tell us the exciting things you could do in the club. Most of these things involved farm animals and agriculture, but I circled sewing, cooking, baking and cake decorating and handed in the form. I rushed home to tell my mom. She was less than pleased, she had spent her youth heavily involved with 4-H and knew it was very time-consuming. That summer my older sister was starting marching band, my older brother was in Boy Scouts, she was my Girl Scout leader, and we were all taking piano and dance lessons. To top off our activities, she also had a toddler to tote around. I looked up and added, “But I wanted to learn how to cook and sew, just like you Mommy!” How could she tell me no?

Like mother …

My mom is of a dying breed. She stayed at home to raise five children, the last graduates high school this month. She sewed our clothes, decorated elaborate birthday cakes, organized all of our extracurricular activities, read the Lorax so many times she can still recite it from memory, cared for our sick pets, cleaned and took care of our  brick farmhouse that was built in the early 1800’s, and everything else a Mom is required to do. In short, she is a Little House on the Prairie version of Bree Van De Kamp.

During my time in 4-H, she taught me how to sew, cook, can and freeze vegetables we grew in our garden, decorate cakes, paper mache and much more. By the time I got to high school I could tackle complex patterns and won multiple blue ribbons and championship plagues at the state fair. Because I was the middle of five kids and we were involved in so much throughout the year, my 4-H projects always got pushed to the last minute. Every spring we’d travel to Jo-Anne’s and I’d pick out patterns more complicated than necessary and we’d rush home to cut, sew, and hem the garment. My memories of 4-H include falling asleep in mom’s sewing room (which was really just a large closet) to the hum of the sewing machine and then waking up with a wonky seam I had to rip out and sew again while mom frantically lectured me on procrastination and swore the following year we wouldn’t wait until last minute – a lesson that never stuck. Another lesson that I never quite grasped was that perfect was indeed attainable if you rip out enough stitches, but not nearly as satisfying as you’d think when you’re dead ass tired.

Like daughter.

In the last few years of high school, I was too busy to sew or cook. In college, I lost interest in doing anything “house-wife” related. After a few women’s history classes, I dumped all sewing and cooking knowledge in order to make room for other, more important information, like the feminist manifesto. When I joined the Marine Corps, I had to suppress and neglect all feminine skills and instincts in order to learn how to shoot guns and memorize war tactics. Now, I’m 30 years old and I have neither womanly skills nor a career. It’s a lose-lose.

I, like so many other women, missed the point of the feminist movement: to open up opportunities for women, not deny instinctual choices. In college, I was taught that the traditional hobbies I once enjoyed made me weak and destined to stay at home. Now I understand that it’s okay to be an Amazon warrior who can sew a pretty dress while debating politics or world history. Unfortunately, I’ve lost almost all skills to participate in my favorite girly hobbies.

A year ago, my mom bought me a sewing machine for Christmas. I spent months shamelessly posting comments on Facebook and outright begging her for one. Like when I asked her to join 4-H I added that “I want to sew, just like you!” How could she say no to my rekindled interest in sewing? Since then I have mastered the art of sock monkeys and superhero capes and seem to think I’m ready to graduate to dresses. I’m discovering some either inherited or never forgotten skills that they don’t cover in sewing manuals or on-line tutorials: how to leave just enough time to finish the hem on a flight, and how to cuss and scream at inanimate objects. Thankfully my mom is just a phone call away for all the other lessons I have to relearn like how to put boning in a bodice.

Someday, hopefully soon, I’ll embark on a new career. This time I’ll remind myself that not only is it okay to have domestic skills, but it’s a dying tradition that I have to keep alive for another generation. And with her help, I will.


Happy Mother’s Day and thank you for teaching me how to sew and all the other life-lessons you are there for.

The Prifogle Clan

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Lisbeth Prifogle, MFA

Lisbeth Prifogle is a freelance writer, Marine officer, and globetrotter currently in San Diego, CA. She earned an MFA in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles and a BA from DePauw University. Lisbeth spent six months in Iraq and is working on a memoir about her experiences. She keeps a blog titled The Next Bold Move and her work can be found in the 11th issue of Poem Memoir Story, The Splinter Generation, and In the Know Travel. Lisbeth has had problems balancing hormones since she was a teenager and is constantly researching and exploring natural remedies including diet, exercise, and alternative medicines.


  1. I avoided cooking like the plague because I didn’t want to take on the stereotypical female role. Now I wish I had learned some good recipes and cooking secrets. It’s interesting to think of it as a dying tradition. It makes you realize how much we take for granted.

  2. Oh my gosh! Love this story!! Even tho I don’t know what boning is except when it comes to a chicken 😉

    I’ve sewn a total of two things in my life. A white terry cloth bikini when I was 15. (word to the wise, terry cloth is not a good bikini material–hard to work with and when it gets wet, it wants to, errhh, fall off). And a halloween costume for my oldest son, made out of fake fur (another material beginners may want to avoid). But it was worth every curse word I directed in the middle of the night at the sewing machine because he won first prize at our church costume contest when he was 3 years old!!

    Couple years ago I gave my sewing machine (which had been handed down to me by my stepmother) to my best friend with the agreement that any time I needed a seamstress she would fill the bill. It’s worked out splendidly for both of us!

    It would be interesting to write a book telling the stories of all the middle of the night dresses, costumes, etc. that mom’s have made over the years. If those clothes could talk!!

    I think your career Libby should be making customized capes for children (and moms). If I had young kids I’d buy one for them! And what with the popularity of The Avengers, it could really take off!!?? I’ll trade you my time for yours to help get our businesses started??

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