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  • Betty Girardeau

My Mostly Previous Other Life


For many of the years of my adult life I spent the major portion of my work day with sewing machines. I have always loved to sew, most especially using a machine in the process. I generally don't have the patience to sew by hand. I have always liked a bit more instant gratification. Although, I will admit that I like to embellish clothing with hand work of some sort or another, like smocking or various kinds of embroidery. Being able to sew has brought me hours of pleasure as well as a way to make money. I even had my own business before I moved to Tennessee from Virginia. I started out just doing machine monogramming, working with a store owner and then purchased by own professional monogramming machine. When I was working for the store owner we had the contract for all the Miller and Rhoads department stores to do their monogramming. As a result of the post Christmas and early June White Sales, we were almost overwhelmed with work, and I often was putting in ten and twelve hour plus days. For a time, too, I worked for a small company that did machine embroidery, especially logos on shirts. That job required me to work away from home, which wasn't the best arrangement when you are also trying to raise three children and maintain a household. That's when I decided to create my own monogramming business. Initially that is all that I did, but one thing led to another and I started teaching smocking at a local quilt shop which happened to be next door to the monogramming shop. Teaching smocking led to my starting to do clothing construction, too. Many of my students wanted to do the smocking but did not want to learn how to construct the garments. And that led to people asking me if I would sew bride's maids dresses and other wedding attire. At the same time I began smocking and constructing children's clothes that were sold in specialty shops or given as gifts by the buyer. As a result of one of my classes three ladies came to me and asked if I would teach them specific sewing machine skills. I don't remember what the initial skill was, but we enjoyed our classes so much that we ultimately became our own sewing buddy group. The quilt shop where we had started meeting was only too happy to let us meet in their classroom space every Wednesday morning, which we did for years and years. We found that our mutual interest in sewing was quite inspirational for all of us. When one of the group bought her first home embroidery sewing machine, the rest of us soon followed suit. When we found out that we could do even more with machine embroidery if we got specific computer software, we all got that, too. We started creating group sewing projects with each of us having to create our own specific one. That's how we began to really get into embellishing our own clothes with machine embroidery and later creating the same block of the month quilts. Eventually, we added social activities, too, like celebrating each other's birthdays and even, occasionally getting our husbands to come along with us for something we thought they, too, might enjoy. We went to the yearly big quilt show in Williamsburg, too, and made quite an impression the first year when we were seen together wearing garments decorated with the Sunbonnet Sue quilt design, each of us with our own personal representation of Sue. Over the years our children grew up, many of them married, grandchildren started to be born, and even some of the grandchildren became part of our weekly get-togethers. One of the saddest things about moving from Virginia was leaving these special women. We still stay in touch, though not a well as we could have. But many times when I get back to my sewing machine again, I think about those wonderful times we had together. I then I realize that so much of the richness of my life has come about because of my love of sewing. The year after my husband died it was my way of dealing with empty days. I had a lot of UFO's (unfinished objects) in my sewing stash, many of them purchased when my girl friends and I attended those quilt shows. I decided I would try to get as many of them done as I could that year. And I did pretty well, too...ten completed quilts in twelve months. I have not done as much sewing since. But this summer when I was teaching my granddaughter how to use her new sewing machine, I began to feel the urge to get back to it again. The image above was taken a few weeks ago when I was piecing together a quilt that I had planned to make years ago with a photography theme. It is all pieced together waiting for me to print some of my favorite photos on fabric and then appliqué them to the quilt top. Looking back on my life journey right now I realize how much richness something as simple as learning to sew has brought to me.

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