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If you’ve been thinking about sewing more or you’re just in need of a lift, here’s my prescription: join the American Sewing Guild in your area and get involved in monthly meetings or sewing retreats like the one I attended last weekend.

I returned from the weekend motivated to sew and reminded of how much I miss fellowship and community—not the Facebook way, but the way people did it in days gone by. Everyone there was light years ahead of me, but I found all 14 ladies equipped to encourage a newbie like me. When you’re attempting to learn something new or just get better at it, what could be better than surrounding yourself with others who have already mastered it?

In three days of non-stop sewing, you would be amazed at the variety of projects completed–blouses, dresses, quilts, table runners, purses, totes, wreaths, upcycled clothing, coasters, placemats, notebooks and hats. The productivity and skill was astounding, but I was just as encouraged by the fun of sewing and gabbing en masse. Listening to the banter, I remember thinking, “This is the stuff of novels.” No one knows the secrets we shared. I can’t explain it, but it happens so naturally when women gather.

Here’s what I find inspiring: no matter how long you’ve been sewing, you’ll never know it all because there are dozens of ways to accomplish the same tasks. As experienced as they are, every seamstress had a project that benefited from the keen eye of another. Countless times, I could look up and see two women standing together, heads down over a project. Or buried in my own work (I only ripped out a zipper three times before getting it right) I’d overhear a plan hatched from across the room.

“At what point do you think sewing disappeared from common life?” I asked my nearest neighbor. She looked at me incredulously. Sewing had disappeared? She seemed not to notice. “I don’t ever remember not sewing,” she said. “It’s something our family always did.” And there you have it: sewing is an art that’s passed down from mother to daughter.

I finished the weekend with a half-made skirt and the ability to use a new serger I bought last spring–almost embarrassing compared to my neighbors. Despite my paltry accomplishments, I couldn’t have been more pleased. The skirt fits perfectly! The seams are professional looking, in no small part because of my sewing guru and retreat roommate Susan, who helped me set up the serger for the first time. Last winter, Susan tutored me through a jacket that was a tad ambitious for a beginning seamstress. I tend to bite off more than I can chew!

One lady salvaged a Purdue sweatshirt from Goodwill, adding quilted detail and a zipper for a super jazzy jacket. Upcycling seems like the coolest thing, but as anyone of a certain age knows, the concept isn’t new. Any girl who grew up on a farm during the 1920s and 1930s wore dresses made from a feed sacks, a fact easily verified by talking with women in their 70s and 80s.

Here’s proof from a January 1923 letter to the editors of Fashion Service, a publication of the Woman’s Institute of Domestic Arts and Science, published between 1916 and 1934.

“Whenever I see someone cast aside a garment, I want to say, ‘Give it to me: I can use it some way,” for nothing goes to waste now.”

I discovered this and other treasures in Amy Barickman’s Vintage Notions: An Inspirational Guide to Needlework, Cooking, Sewing, Fashion and Fun, a book that any vintage enthusiast would love to own.

What’s hanging in your closet that you hope to upcycle or restyle?

Life is short. Wear the good stuff.

Special thanks to my new friend Mary Jo Greenwood for sharing photos from the retreat. I was too engrossed in my own work to document much!