The profound importance of sewing

The profound importance of sewing

Whether it’s a profession, a lifetime passion or just a hobby, sewing could have much more of an impact on your life than you first thought. For Jane Werner, Executive Director of the Children's Museum of Pittsburgh, sewing has not only shaped her character, but the world around her.

In a fascinating TED Talk titled Childhood, sewing and the world we make, Jane describes how sewing entered her life as a childhood passion, something to while away the afternoons after school… but ended up having a truly profound impact on her life. 

She begins with a simple confession: “I’m a sewer. As goofy as that sounds, I love to sew.” She goes on to say that the needle and thread gifted her with the skills and attributes needed to gain her prestigious position: “the reason I am a Children’s Museum Director is because I sewed.

This goes back to the notion that all of our childhood experiences are essential to who we’ve become.”

When Jane was young, she visited ‘The Iceman’ - the preserved remains of a five-thousand year old man found in a glacier between Austria and Italy. The Iceman is an “archaeological treasure trove”. But what impressed Jane most about him? You get one guess. The clothes!

 “Not only did this guy have style, he had a great tailor… those seams are beautiful. It’s stunning. Whoever made his clothing really cared about what they put into the world… what they made.”

This man’s outfit wasn’t just about staying warm or camouflaged against the cold or ice-age predators. It was a work of art, too.

The Iceman had sparked Jane’s interest in the history of fabrics, tailoring and sewing. In her talk, she takes us on a brief jog through history - there were no sewing machines until Englishman Thomas Saint invented them in 1790, and even then, people weren’t convinced (not able to believe that a machine could take over the human hand).

Now, we can go online and rent and buy clothes in a matter of seconds. So why sew now? “There doesn’t seem to be much reason to do it,” says Jane. 

Except that for her, sewing had become more than just a skill, more than just a hobby. “Sewing gave me a lot of confidence… I became very proficient… it became part of who I was… and once I understood the process of sewing I could relate it to almost everything else in my life.

I realised that I could create new things.”

For Jane, understand process was key to starting a creative journey that would eventually land her as director of the prestigious Children’s Museum. She suggests that the following creative process involved in sewing can be related to most daunting endeavours. 

Research - look into fashions, trends, styles.

Envision - what do you want to create?

Materials - look at and collect your materials - the exciting bit!

Change vision - maybe the materials you imagined weren’t quite right… alter your outlook!

Layout - see what you have to work with.

Cut (commit) - make that first step toward your final product.

Follow - the direction.


And then, it’s “sew, press, sew, rip, sew, rip, sew, press, WEAR!”

You get the idea. As we all try to sew through our lives, occasionally there’ll be a rip that we need to address, but if we persevere we can end up with something truly beautiful. Jane used these steps to plan, design and build her museum which is now a creative hub used and loved by many.

If you’ve not quite got your head around this yet, let Jane explain the steps herself in the video below.

 Jane’s job as director involves designing the museum’s programs - activities that involve hands-on learning for children, where they can play with “real stuff” rather than spending too much time with their “electronic mothers”. She poses a question to us - what did you like to do as a child, and has it impacted who you are today?

If sewing’s the answer, you could be on the right track.

Susan Stevenson
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