Talladega

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?”

“Please.”

“Okay,” she says, totally deadpan. “But you have to watch me very closely.”

“Scout’s honor.”

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.

69 comments

  1. Holly L - September 16, 2022 7:04 am

    I love this beyond words. Thank you, Sean ❤️

    Reply
  2. Ed (Bear) - September 16, 2022 7:22 am

    Good job! You sewed things up quite well with your closing statement!

    Reply
  3. Mitch Stennett - September 16, 2022 7:29 am

    You and Mike Rowe should get together and champion changes in our educational system as a team! Mike is trying to get folks to understand that skills training is as vital as a college degree, while your emphasis on what I call “life skills” is vital, too. Both of you – together – would be voices (and words) that could be heard nationwide. Voices of reason amidst the din of politics, division and nay-saying could be far-reaching. Thanks!

    Reply
  4. Te - September 16, 2022 8:23 am

    Miz April is right. Nobody i know knows how to sew. Time was I made every stitch I wore except underwear. I come from a long line of seamstresses because store-bought clothes were not in the budget. I remember being in my parent’s bedroom in Huntsville during 110F heat (no AC back then) while Mama sewed. I learned in 9th grade home ec class on a peddle Singer. What I wouldn’t give to have one of those now! These days, I hem the occasional skirt, replace a missing button by hand. Clothes are cheaper to buy than drive 50 miles to a fabric store – if one existed. Sad to say.

    Reply
  5. Valerie Cash - September 16, 2022 9:12 am

    My Mommie made so many clothes I was embarrassed to be seen in. At least in school.
    I finally remembered after she passed, she was making me love.

    Reply
  6. Ann Thompson - September 16, 2022 9:40 am

    What’s next Sean? Cooking?
    We all need miss April in our communities. Hope you go back next week.

    Reply
  7. Deborah Smith - September 16, 2022 9:47 am

    My favorite so far! You do realize that you just made a positive impression on a young girls life in one afternoon? And about Home Ec classes, what a loss. I took home ec every year of middle and high school. I was a college bound student but my parents understood the importance of those life skills plus I loved the class. I can but don’t sew beyond the basics but my mother made most of my clothes growing up and still quite a few after I was a grown woman. Growing up I was sometimes embarrassed that my clothes were home made. Later in life I came to realize what a treasure those clothing items were. My dolls always had matching outfits made from the leftover fabrics. I didn’t know the terms couture and bespoke back then but now I realize how lucky I was!

    Reply
  8. Robert - September 16, 2022 9:58 am

    It’s always great to be recognized by your peers, even if they are just a little younger

    Reply
  9. Joy Jacobs - September 16, 2022 10:59 am

    I have a sewing machine but it’s mostly gathering dust. I’ve sewed a lot through the years but never did love it and frankly a real seamstress would be embarrassed by my seams. I iron my hubby’s shirts because who wants to pay $5 per shirt at the dry cleaners.

    Reply
  10. Dolores - September 16, 2022 11:04 am

    Sometime in the sixties I took a year of Home Ec. Half the year was devoted to cooking (loved it), the other half to sewing (not so much). The machine I was assigned was cantankerous: the top of the stitching looked fine, flip it over and the bottom looked like a bird nest. I imagine the new fangled machines are much more agreeable today. Mom’s was an foot powered old treadle she used for mending and patching, not creating.
    In grade school my best friends mom was an excellent seamstress. I always admired my friend’s clothing and was astonished to learn most was handmade. Her mom had an eye for beautiful fabric and the patterns kept up with the times.
    I love some of the girls have sponsors in Miss April’s class. I love the entire premise.
    Bless Miss April and her students. I’m glad you picked Kayden, it sounds like she responded to your Light.

    Reply
  11. oldlibrariansshelf - September 16, 2022 11:06 am

    . . .and I thought this would be about race cars. This was a bait and switch with a BETTER outcome than expected!

    Reply
  12. April - September 16, 2022 11:09 am

    Thank you for coming to our studio! Our pink doors are always open for you, my friend!

    Reply
  13. Rhett Talbert - September 16, 2022 11:16 am

    I have vivid memories of going with my mother to the Belk’s Department Store and watching her pick patterns for clothes she would make for herself and for my sister. I’d help her lay the patterns out on the cleared-off dinner table, pin them to the underlying fabric, cut out the pieces, then stack them for the trip upstairs to her Singer console. She didn’t sew much for me or my brothers, except to hem pants-legs, but I did make a special request when I was in high school. I desperately wanted a wine-collared “poofy-armed” shirt with a big collar, like Mitch Ryder of the Detroit Wheels (to help me in the getting-girls-to-notice-me department). But because the style wasn’t cosmopolitan enough for my madras or Gant dress shirts, C-buckle belts & Weejuns preppy times, I mostly admired myself in the custom-sewn shirt and bell-bottoms before a full-length mirror. But I knew it was a product of a Mother’s love for her boy, so I didn’t give a damn what anybody else thought of it.
    P.S. I can’t tell you how relieved I was that this column wasn’t about stick car racing.

    Reply
  14. Dale Saufley - September 16, 2022 11:19 am

    My mom taught me how to sew. I’ve made clothes for myself and a few others since I was eleven. Mom made all of our non-jeans clothing, especially dresses (3 girls in my family). Today I still sew clothes and items for the house. Since mom has dementia now I feel closest to her former self when I’m sewing.

    Reply
  15. Pat Deacon - September 16, 2022 11:20 am

    Sean, Quilting, a sewing art, is a multi billion dollar business. Take yourself to a quilt show and see it with your own eyes. Paducah, KY has a large quilt museum and the biggest quilt show in the country is in Houston, TX. You will be amazed.
    PS Quilters use irons, ironing boards and a variety of machines.
    Sincerely, Pat

    Reply
  16. Anne Arthur - September 16, 2022 11:42 am

    Miss April is a gem. She does a fine job to educate the girls, more than any school setting could provide.
    Thanks for telling us about her.

    Reply
  17. mccutchen52 - September 16, 2022 11:45 am

    My mom taught me the basics. She always said that I needed to know how to sew on a button. My wife doesn’t like to admit it but she can sew. I bought some coveralls and they only came in one length. My wife told me to “just stand in the chair” and she figured the length and put a hem in the legs. Her mom could sew and made her learn a lot more than I did but she doesn’t like to admit it.

    Reply
  18. Marilyn - September 16, 2022 12:15 pm

    Awesome, Sean! And good for Miss April for offering to teach sewing.

    Reply
  19. Denise DeVries - September 16, 2022 12:16 pm

    You nailed it again. The hard part for me was I never had Home Ec even tho it was offered when I was in high school. When I got married I had no experience in runniing a household and cooking. I’ll always bless my husband for his patience while I
    Iearned.

    Reply
  20. Josie - September 16, 2022 12:37 pm

    Love it!

    Reply
  21. Sandra - September 16, 2022 12:40 pm

    Great story, great town

    Reply
  22. Rhonda - September 16, 2022 12:48 pm

    Wonderful! Miss Jamie, theres a child that could really benefit from some time spent learning to cook and just being around someone named Jamie. Or maybe a young man who needs fishing lessons. Imagine if we all taught just one something. Oh and the teachers reward is a full heart! Runneth over!

    Reply
  23. Cynthia Russell - September 16, 2022 12:50 pm

    WOW!! YOUR COLUMN WAS SUCH AN EYE OPENER!! I really hadn’t realized they no longer had Home EC in schools.. Now I understand why someone ask me to fix things..

    Reply
  24. Debbie Taylor - September 16, 2022 12:54 pm

    What a wonderful thing Miss April is doing! I feel very fortunate that my mother taught me to sew when I was a young girl. Like hand-written letters, sewing is a lost art … so glad she’s keeping it alive and that you’re learning the skill!

    Reply
  25. Brenda - September 16, 2022 12:54 pm

    Amen!

    Reply
  26. David - September 16, 2022 12:55 pm

    Tears of laughter

    Loved the ending

    Reply
  27. Cindy - September 16, 2022 12:57 pm

    As a child who sewed into adulthood with a precious mother who could make anything from pictures I collected out of magazines, this totally melts my heart. ❤️

    Reply
  28. Sonya Tuttle - September 16, 2022 1:10 pm

    Glad I lived in the “old days” and had this class. Still sewing!

    Reply
  29. Beth Carey - September 16, 2022 1:15 pm

    Precious ❤️

    Reply
  30. Marilu Beasley - September 16, 2022 1:28 pm

    Sweet Sweet Story Sean

    Reply
  31. Priscilla Rodgers - September 16, 2022 1:30 pm

    So are you Sean.

    Reply
  32. Pat - September 16, 2022 1:36 pm

    Can’t find comments.

    Reply
  33. Lori Sammartino - September 16, 2022 1:52 pm

    Aw, this one tugged at my heart. I’d love to do something noble for the greater good like Ms April. I hope God isn’t done with me yet. 🤪 Stories like yours today ignite me to keep dreaming, wishing, hoping, and praying. And the pictures you paint in my mind’s eye with your words? Oh, just so glorious!!! Thanks for sharing your art and craft. Such a blessing to me and a whole lotta others.

    Reply
  34. artwimberley - September 16, 2022 1:54 pm

    So, are you going back? My father-in-law was a renaissance man. He taught all three of his sons to sew, mend, cook, can, iron…a long list of talents that encouraged these sons to take care of themselves. I’ve always admired that independent spirit….and the fact that their FATHER taught them. Hang in there, Sean. What a feeling of accomplishment when you receive Kayden’s seal of approval.

    Reply
  35. Patricia Parrish-Lewis - September 16, 2022 1:58 pm

    Sweet, sweet, sweet! I’ll love you forever, Sean Dietrich. Thanks for your hands and mind on the heartbeat of the Southland, and America.

    Reply
  36. Dot Coltrane - September 16, 2022 2:20 pm

    I sewed most of my own clothes and countless garments for our two children (now in their early 50’s. I even took a tailoring class at one point and made two dressy two piece suits for myself. I think sewing fell by the wayside when (1) home ec classes were not required in high school and (2) purchased clothing became less expensive than fabric.
    My husband took one semester of home ec and one of shop in high school. He recently purchased a sewing machine to do repairs and alterations.
    I am glad you found that class and made a pillowcase. And I am proud of the teacher and her students. Wish they were not all little girls!

    Reply
  37. PSC - September 16, 2022 3:08 pm

    My dear deceased mother-in-law was not only an excellent seamstress, but a gifted, talented quilter. She did custom quilts on commission, and made quilts as gifts for family and close friends. She taught many youngsters the art and craft of sewing — our kids and grandkids included. In her final years she gave up full-size quilting, but would make stacks and stacks of patchwork lap quilts from donated material — all given away to nursing homes and a local cancer treatment center. She also made girls dresses of all sizes and donated them to several spouse abuse shelters. She never stopped giving. That’s why God granted her 102 years of a well-lived life.

    Reply
  38. David Britnell - September 16, 2022 3:32 pm

    That’s a good skill to have!

    Reply
  39. Jannie Bryant - September 16, 2022 3:51 pm

    I enjoy sewing, but I never take the time now. These days I think most folks are struggling to make ends meet, I know I am. Their time is taken with 2 jobs and a family to take care of. I’m happy to see people like Miss April keeping this valuable skill alive. Your columns are one of the bright spots of my day. God Bless you and Jamie. And Miss April.

    Reply
  40. Dawnie B - September 16, 2022 3:52 pm

    Apparently, you done good❣️ I just love little girls!

    Reply
  41. Cathy M - September 16, 2022 4:15 pm

    How precious this is. My 13 yr. Old granddaughter really wants to learn to sew. However between cheering and running cross country after school she has little free time. I wish I could go to Miss April’s class. Maybe I can find a Miss April in Birmingham. Would love it if kids would put their phones away and take up a skill like sewing. Great story.

    Reply
  42. sjhl7 - September 16, 2022 4:16 pm

    Precious!

    Reply
  43. Cathy Rickey - September 16, 2022 4:47 pm

    How, how… can you make me smile at the beginning…and have a tear at the end each time I read?! Thank you.

    Reply
  44. Pat, eastern NC - September 16, 2022 5:59 pm

    Miss April certainly is doing God’s work, as are you.

    Reply
  45. Linda Moon - September 16, 2022 6:20 pm

    Oh my. Excuse me for stepping away for a few moments before posting my comment while remembering my father’s life and eventual burial there in Talladega. But, soon I became happy when I finished reading about Miss April’s work!

    Reply
  46. Pam Wilkinson - September 16, 2022 6:36 pm

    The comments for this excellent article are missing.

    Reply
  47. Grammar Queen - September 16, 2022 6:53 pm

    I loved this story!
    I learned to sew (and a lot more) in four years of Virginia Spomer’s home economics class in high school. I learned to cut out patterns, sew flat-felled seams, and why it’s important to press the garment as you sew. And I learned how to stand elegantly, take care of a home, plan a balanced meal, calm the children and wash their little faces so they are ready to see Daddy when he comes home from work, how to pamper him and shelter him from all the household stress I endured at home. I learned to keep something in the freezer that I could whip out and create a nice meal if he brought his boss home for dinner unannounced. When I graduated high school in 1961, I could sew a great sports jacket for him and iron my husband’s shirt or pants. But as it sometimes does, life took unexpected, unpleasant turns. But life went on as it always does, and I continued to sew and cook delicious meals. But in that class, I also had gained some other important skills that I have used every day of my life since that last bell rang to dismiss the last class. I raised my children by myself and they are now wonderful, honest, loving men who know what’s important in life. Thank you, Mrs. Spomer. And thank you, Sean, for reminding me of her. This was a precious story.

    Reply
  48. MAM - September 16, 2022 7:24 pm

    I’m terribly disappointed not to be able to view all the comments today! But I will write one of my own. I used to sew. I learned from my mother and home ec classes. My mom, when she had a travel trip planned to anywhere, would always sew a new outfit for the trip. Often she was hemming a skirt or sewing on buttons late the night before. I still do repairs, but I don’t start from scratch anymore. It takes too long. Which is probably why so many people have stopped sewing. It’s like playing the piano. Not many kids study that any more. So many traditions are being lost. It’s sad, really.

    Reply
  49. Teresa - September 16, 2022 9:23 pm

    ❤️

    Reply
  50. Laurie A Anderson - September 16, 2022 9:28 pm

    I love this story! As a former Home Ec. teacher who along with 15 other HEc teachers n
    my district, I feel we made a huge difference to our students. I had the first class with all
    boys and the entire Football team. They were great. It saddens me now that all of the life skills I taught are no more, but the need is still there.

    Reply
  51. PSC - September 16, 2022 9:31 pm

    Comments won’t load today. Glittch on my end or yours?

    Reply
  52. virginia westlake - September 16, 2022 9:56 pm

    My mother made all my clothes, suits, coats, formals, you name it. I made most of my daughter’s clothes and some special dresses for my granddaughter. Then I got into quilting. Next my husband was making quilts. Now he’s made over 400 quilts, had two one man shows in small museums, won many ribbons, and had 12 quilts in the men’s show at the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum! It’s really kept him busy in retirement. So, my advice is, enjoy sewing! You never know where it will lead!

    Reply
  53. Linda Moon - September 16, 2022 10:26 pm

    Talladega. RIP Daddy. I love you so.

    Reply
  54. Barbara Nordyke - September 16, 2022 11:34 pm

    I ca

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  55. Barbara Nordyke - September 16, 2022 11:36 pm

    Where are the comments. I can’t access them?!?

    Reply
  56. Cynthia A Garner - September 17, 2022 12:44 am

    This needs to happen in more places.

    Reply
  57. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - September 17, 2022 12:48 am

    ❤️

    Reply
  58. Mary - September 17, 2022 3:23 am

    My mom taught me to sew the summer I turned 13. Any time a home ec class was offered, I took it. I used to sew all my clothes. I wonder when and why I stopped. I don’t make clothes but I still sew.

    Reply
  59. Susie Flick - September 17, 2022 3:31 am

    I sewed a lot of my clothes growing up, until high school. My Mom sewed, my paternal grandmother was a very talented seamstress and lived in CA and came to IL to visit each summer. One of the highlights of her visit was for us to go to the department store downtown and look at fabric. We’d find fabric and then a pattern and my grandmother would sew it for us. She would send us beautifully made dresses with pockets in the side seams. This was in the 50’s before cell phones and the need for women or girls to have pockets. At Christmas she would send lovely housecoats for us. I loved to sew. I made a lot of my daughter’s clothes when she was little. I still sew now and then, patch things and enjoy it. The worst part of sewing is sitting…you can’t normally sew standing up. That is what keeps me from sewing sometimes…I don’t like to sit all that time to complete the project. I always wished there was a machine you could put your fabric and pattern in and it would cut it out for you. I have a sewing machine and an iron, you can’t sew and finish a garment properly if you don’t’ have an iron to press the seams. Guess once I get done painting my kitchen, I should get the material I bought months ago and cut the patterns out and make what I intended when I bought the material. One nice thing about sewing is you always have a unique original creation that no one else will ever have! SWEET DREAMS ON YOUR PILLOW!

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  60. Glenda Williams - September 17, 2022 12:08 pm

    Oh Sean, I love you. Your precious writing brought tears to my eyes at this early morning. You do such unthought of things like going to a sewing class, and you even touch the young. And today your mom’s comment, “Don’t eat your feelings,” gave me something to think about and remember forever. You bring joy to so many. Press on.

    Reply
  61. Carol Clark - September 17, 2022 1:01 pm

    You haven’t lived until you puncture your fingernail while sewing. You’ll never let it happen again. Nice article.

    Reply
  62. Lora Lee - September 17, 2022 3:42 pm

    So where’s the pillow and the picture?😉🦋

    Reply
  63. Misty - September 17, 2022 4:47 pm

    I am a “Home Ec” teacher. It has been called Family & Consumer Science for over 25 yrs. Sadly, many schools HAVE phased it out although the schools do receive federal $ for having it. Yes, emphasis on college & testing have taken their tool. As far as the testing, follow the $$. The mandatory testing requirements are because legislators are getting money from the testing companies. If the pandemic showed us anything, it’s that the ability to care for yourself and your family is so needed. Knowing how to grow and prepare your own food, a basic understanding of child development theory, how to clean and care for your home should not be undervalued. I am winding my career down (yr 30) and I am worried about who will replace me. I have grown my FCS department at school from just myself to having a 2nd teacher. I have a few former students who have followed in my footsteps and for that I am grateful.

    Reply
  64. Sheri K - September 17, 2022 5:47 pm

    What a wonderful article today! I dabbled in sewing when I was much younger but my sister was the sewing whiz! She still sews occasionally on a super old Singer. Love your writing!!!

    Reply
  65. Mary - September 18, 2022 10:47 am

    Great story Sean! The skills I learned in Domestic Science (the Northern Ireland equivalent of Home Ec)have been a great help to me throughout my life. Saved a lot of money making drapes, cushions and clothing. Now I sew on buttons and fix torn pockets etc for my grandsons. They are very appreciative when I can fix their favorite shorts.

    Reply
  66. Michael Edwards - September 19, 2022 12:17 am

    I remember my grandmother teaching me how to iron and sew a button on my shirt, two skills that have come in very handy over the years. If I forget and leave the clothes in the dryer too long I still like to iron them sometimes. Very old-fashioned, I’m sure, but they do look better! Miss April is doing a good thing.

    Reply
  67. Charlotte Decker - September 19, 2022 5:33 pm

    Warms my heart!

    Reply
  68. Anita Bowen - September 20, 2022 12:50 pm

    My sweet mama taught home ec for 43 years in the local high school until it was dropped from the required or optional courses in 1985. Her former students STILL stop her in Belks and thank her for teaching the skills they needed to survive! She sewed and made the best biscuits ever!

    Reply
  69. letitgo699 - September 25, 2022 1:42 pm

    I’m 60 years old. I grew up in a tiny little town in Vermont – one general store, one post office ran by two nice little old ladies, Myrtle and Gladys, in their home, one Baptist church and one Catholic Church. My Mom still lives there and she still has the same phone number she had when I was a child. I live one town over, with my husband, on our organic dairy farm. One of the ladies in town took it upon herself to teach any of the girls in town who wanted to, how to sew. I still have the little pink flowered dress I hand-sewed with Mrs Laflam in her livingroom. Because of her I can sew on buttons when they fall off, hem pants that are too long, mend holes in grain bags that have been repurposed. Another village lady taught me to knit. My gram taught me to crochet. Memories and skills that I will be forever grateful for.

    Reply

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