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Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Sewing Patterns, Scarlett O’Hara, Little Town on the Prairie, and a Valentine’s Day-themed story by Kaye Spencer #sewing #prairierosepubs #valentinesday #westernromance

I’ve been browsing the Internet for long denim skirts without success. Skirts that struck my fancy had their own special issues: exorbitant prices, outrageous shipping costs, not the right material, not my size, not long enough…

I loathe shopping under any circumstances, and I avoid actually going into stores to try on clothes, but I still wanted a long denim skirt. Other than hiring a seamstress (not a viable option), I was going to have to make a skirt myself.

I still sew an occasional crafty project or help a granddaughter with a book report doll,

but I haven’t sewn clothing for myself or anyone else in years. There are many reasons for this, not the least of which is that my patience for sewing rivals this child’s patience.

Another reason I wasn’t keen on the idea of sewing a skirt is that it meant a search through my storage trailer for the tote with my patterns, which brought to my tangential mind the scene in Gone with the Wind when Scarlett decides to cut up the draperies to make herself a new dress.

In case you’re not familiar with that scene in the book and the movie, I’ll warn you they aren’t the same. Here is the draperies clip from the movie.

For the curious among you, the scene in the book is on pages 382-384. I referenced my copy, which is the 1964 edition published by The Macmillan Company, New York.

Back to my skirt… I located  my box of patterns, ordered a medium weight denim, cut the pattern, and sewed.

No surprise that I don’t like the result. The denim is too heavy. I don’t like the drape. I’m going to give it one more try, though. I’ve ordered a lighter weight denim.

Yes, this is me modeling the unhemmed denim skirt.

I’m headless, because my hair rivaled Medusa’s at that moment and, coincidentally, I was making this exact face.

If you’ve stayed with me this far, you’re probably wondering what sewing a denim skirt has to do with a Valentine’s Day western romance, Little Town on the Prairie, and Scarlett O’Hara’s curtains dress.

The connection is sewing patterns.

According to this Wikipedia article HERE, it wasn’t until the 1860s (in America) that ready-made patterns came about. A magazine called The Mirror Of Fashion, published by William Jennings Demorest and Ellen Louise Demorest, offered one-size patterns of the latest fashions. The patterns “were of unprinted paper, cut to shape, and could be purchased ‘flat’ (folded)…”

Ebenezer Butterick, James McCall, Vogue Pattern Service, and Simplicity Pattern Co., Inc. soon followed with their own sewing patterns. It would be years before pattern layouts, identification of pattern pieces (meaning which was the collar, cuff, etc.), and more than the briefest of instructions were included.

Back then, whether you purchased a catalog sewing pattern or, more likely, made your own, you took great care to preserve every pattern for the priceless treasure it was as a time-saver when so many sewing projects were completely done by hand and each new dress, shirt, coat, etc. had to be designed, fitted, and a ‘trial run’ made with inexpensive material to see how the real item would fit and where it needed tweaking. It was a tedious process.

This excerpt from Little Town on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder illustrated how difficult and time-consuming it was Laura’s mother, Caroline, to make a dress for Mary (page 90 of Little Town on the Prairie, A Harper Trophy Book, 1971).

Ma was nervous about this best dress. She had made the summer dresses first, for practice with the patterns. She had cut the patterns from newspaper, using her dressmaker’s chart of thin cardboard as a guide. Lines and figures for all different sizes were printed on it. The trouble was that nobody was exactly any of the sizes on the chart. After Ma had measured Mary, and figured and marked the size of every sleeve and skirt and bodice piece on the chart, and cut the patterns, and cut and basted the dress lining, then when she tried the lining on Mary she had to make changes all along the seams.

In my short story, Mail-Order Mix Up in the Lariats, Letters, and Lace Valentine’s Day-themed anthology of western romance stories (Prairie Rose Publications, 2016), seamstress Irene Mason, widowed after 24 years of marriage to a no-account ‘traveling salesman’, answers a mail-order bride advertisement. In preparation of leaving, she sells almost everything she owns to pay the debts her dead husband left her with. In this excerpt, she’s talking to her lawyer.


“Let’s take care of business. Now that the creditors are paid, is there anything left?”

Arthur removed an envelope from an inside coat pocket. “Just over three hundred dollars.”

Dear Lord. She looked the envelope a long time before she took it. Despite her determination to bear with equal dignity whatever the amount—much or little—her shoulders slumped with crestfallen disappointment. This piddling amount was hard to take. The money, along with a few personal keepsakes and sentimental pieces of furniture, clothing, sewing machine, box of patterns [emphasis mine], and sewing basket represented the sum total of her life. Not much to show for a woman her age. When it came down to it, though, she had no reason and no right to ride the pity wagon. Much as she was tempted, neither could she place al the blame at the no-account’s feet. She had some culpability in getting where she was today, and there was no use whitewashing the truth of why she’d married him.

Okay, maybe using sewing patterns as the thread (pun intended) that holds this blog article together is iffy. I hope you found something of interest or, at the very least, something that made you smile.

Lariats, Letters, and Lace

Until next time,
Kaye Spencer

Writing through history one romance upon a time

Stay in contact with Kaye —

Computer clip art image - Collection of Crazy Computer Cliparts:


  1. Good luck -- I bet you nail it next time! I sew, and have dreams of historical costuming, but mostly I make my own pajama pants because even if I mess them up the only folks who are going to see them like me a lot already! Since I work full time, writing takes up most of the time I might otherwise have for sewing.

    1. Thanks, Cate. I always have high hopes that the garment will turn out wearable. lol At least with denim, it's not wasted. I can cut it up for patching.

  2. I laughed several times. Sewing can be an adventure, and a nightmare. Now rather than to have to face a seam ripper, I'd almost rather throw out the garment. My grandmother sewed everything by hand. While I can hem by hand, I'd hate to have to sew everything by hand. And when I think about the clothing they sewed by hand back in the candlelight! I have every light on in the house to sew one little seam with a fancy machine. This was a fun post, Kaye. I enjoyed reading it.

    1. Livia,

      Sewing is equal parts adventure and nightmare. I agree about the seam ripping. I have to sew during the brightest part of the day, too, and with all the lights on and beside a sunny window. Sewing with dark material and dark thread is really challenging and frustrating.

  3. I love that scene from GWTW. Hattie McDaniel is such a hoot and was the first black woman to win an Oscar and no wonder, she was great in it. I love your denim skirt, Kaye. You did a great job. I enjoyed this article and your sense of humor.

    1. Elizabeth,

      I'm glad you found the humor in my article. I was really poking fun at myself over my sewing.

  4. What a great post. Loved reading this! I used to love to sew, but then came the year that Jessica was 4 and Casey was 1 and I decided it would be 'so cute' to have matching costumes...clown costumes, complete with pointed hat and the time Halloween was one day away, I promised the Good Lord I would never again touch a sewing machine if He would only let me finish those @%&*#@$&@#*$ costumes in time! LOL I did, I took pictures, and I don't think I ever did sew again except one time when Jessica and a friend needed costumes for their ice skating routine. I did it. But it was VERY EASY.

    My mom was an excellent seamstress and made a lot of our clothing, and with three daughters that was a LOT. She enjoyed it so much (no I did not get that patience gene from her!) Your skirt looks great!

    I can't imagine making things "back in the day" like described in Little Town on the Prairie. That must have been soooo hard and man, talk about needing patience to do that. :(((( Great post, Kaye--I enjoyed it!

    1. Cheryl,

      The pattern I wanted to use was a Butterick. I resisted and stayed with Simplicity. The pattern certainly can make or break the sewing experience. McCalls patterns are troublesome, too. Halloween costumes are a royal pain in the rear--I feel (felt?) your sewing pain. lolol

  5. Kaye, the 'thread' made total sense to me, but then I have sewn all my life. (Except for the last few years). Other than costumes, nothing I made was fitted. It made my life so much easier. I still have a lot a material left from those days. Maybe someday I'll get back to it.

    Thanks for a fun post. Doris

    1. Doris,

      I have lots of material stockpiled, too. It's an unavoidable side effect of sewing. lol I used to do a bit of crocheting, and I still have skads of skeins. lololol

    2. We must be twins. I still crochet once in a while, and have so much yarn. LOL Doris

  6. This post brought back memories of my mother's sewing skills. She made her three daughters' wedding dresses, all our formal dresses, and her fancy square dance dresses. She would change patterns to fit our sizes and combine pieces from different patterns to create new garments (the skirt from one, the bodice from another). I remember one square dance dress where the skirst had layers of scalloped tiers. She made the perfect scallops with an electrified treadle singer machine that only sewed straight seams. I wish I had her skills.

    1. SKC512,

      My mom was a good seamstress, too. She could cut up a dress (or coat or pants...) and make other patterns from it. All I got when I did that was a perfectly find garment now cut into pieces and unusable. lolol

  7. I admit that the year I took Home Ec. in high school did me no good what-so-ever. My mother helped me get through that disaster. It wasn't until I got married and moved to Texas, way far away from Mom, that I was faced with trying to sew my own clothes. With gratitude, I learned to sew from the directions on the patterns. I was lucky enough to have received a box from Mom containing patterns and material and a Singer sewing machine from my grandmother. For a while it became fun to sew, but I do very little of it these days.
    Good luck on your jean skirt. From the picture it looks like you accomplished the task.
    All the best to your corner of the universe, Kaye...

    1. Sarah -

      I had the junior high home ec teacher from hell. It wasn't until I was grown that I realized what a good teacher she was. I just thought she was a mean old spiteful biddy. She was a perfectionist who took her job seriously. We would do a sewing project in class and she would have them ready for us the next day. Ready meant your seams or hems or whatever were approved and you could move on to the next step in the project or it meant that she'd spent the night ripping out your seams so you could do it again. Holy cow, she was picky, but I did learn from her (even though at the time I hated the sight of her). lolol

      Thanks for stopping by.

  8. Very brave to attempt a skirt. I only do curtains as they're a straight line. Thanks for a very fun post.

    1. C.A.-

      Funny you should say 'curtains'. I'm thinking about making new basement window curtains. I haven't chosen material, so the mood isn't quite upon me yet.

      Thanks for stopping by.