TALLADEGA, Ala.— I hit town after lunchtime. I drive around the square. I pass the Ritz Theater marquee. The trading post. Tina’s Homecookin’ Restaurant.
I am looking for Court Street because I am taking a sewing class today. My appointment is at Miss April’s Fashion Girl Sewing Workshop.
I’ve always wanted to learn to sew. When I was a kid, my mother sewed everything. She made our clothes. She even added custom tags to my clothing. The tags read: “Property of Sean Dietrich.”
Mama even started sewing these tags into my underwear. Heaven knows why. I don’t want to meet the man desperate enough to steal another man’s underpants.
Miss April greeted me at the door. Her workshop was outfitted with Singer sewing machines and spools of colored thread. Fun music was playing. The whole place had an energetic, youthful vibe.
“This is a kid hangout,” Miss April says. “Girls come here after school, and I teach them to sew.”
Miss April has been teaching kids to sew for a long time. Sometimes locals buy their daughters and granddaughters lessons for Christmas. Sometimes underprivileged girls just need something to do with their hands, and anonymous donors make it happen.
The reason Miss April teaches sewing is simple, she explains. “Because nobody knows how to sew anymore.”
Sewing is a disappearing craft in America. In fact, the skill is practically nonexistent.
Fifty years ago approximately 90 percent of U.S. women practiced the skill of sewing. Today it’s around 12 percent.
And the stats get even more dismal. One survey showed that 87 percent of U.S. households own irons, but only 9 percent use them. Another survey showed that one in three Americans can’t do basic household skills such as ironing, sewing buttons, reading laundry tag symbols, or boiling water.
Yes. Boiling water.
So why are these skills disappearing in America? Miss April knows why.
“Because a lot of schools don’t have home ec classes anymore.”
She’s got a point. With the rising costs of education, schools now divert funds into programs aimed to help kids get accepted into college. That’s the main goal in today’s schools. College.
Also, classroom time is a factor. Each year, students are expected to complete mandatory state and other required testing. Tests take major time. Precious school hours are spent studying for shiploads of tests.
Nobody has time to learn how to iron shirts.
It was a different world when I was a boy. We had home ec classes beginning in fourth grade.
We learned to boil eggs, darn socks, how to use weights and measures, how to iron, and most importantly, how to start a grease fire on Adam Cooper’s classroom stove, and how to call the EMTs.
“I realize not many entrepreneurs open sewing schools for kids,” says Miss April. “But I really believe in what we’re doing. I just want to teach kids to sew.”
Class is about to begin.
Miss April’s students arrive one by one. Soon, the room is alive with the giggling of little girls. Kids are operating sewing machines, making their own clothes.
One girl is making a blouse. Another mends her granny’s shorts. I’ve never seen kids having this much fun doing something that’s legal.
Kayden, 11, sits at a sewing machine beside me. Her hair is in braided locks. She is a quiet kid. Very reserved. I’m not sure whether she likes me.
“What are you making?” I ask.
“A peasant blouse,” she says, stoically.
“Can I watch?”
She shrugs. “Would you like me to explain what I’m doing?”
“Okay,” she says, totally deadpan. “But you have to watch me very closely.”
I watch Kayden’s skilled hands. She explains every stitch, talking me through each step.
She is a good teacher. I learn all about straight stitches, chain stitches, back tacks, zig-zag stitches, and how to cut fabric.
Kayden even helps me sew a pillow of my own. She is a patient instructor. But firm. Like an Army drill sergeant, only much shorter.
She shows no emotion except to stifle a laugh when I almost puncture my thumbnail with a high-powered sewing machine needle.
When we are finished, the whole class is ecstatic over their completed projects. And so am I. There is lots of giggling going on. Lots of selfies. Lots of cheering.
Kayden takes my decorative pillow and inspects it with the careful eye of an old master. I am still not sure whether this girl likes me. Frankly, she seems unimpressed by my craftsmanship.
But she finally nods and says flatly, “You did a good job.”
Before we all part ways, Miss April tells us to pose for a group photo. The class gathers together. Several girls, and one tall, goofy old guy. Seamstresses in training.
As we all smile for the camera, Kayden turns to me and whispers, “Are you coming back next week?” And my cup runneth over.
You’re doing God’s work, Miss April.