Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Miss Mae

Press Here to find out more about this lovely early 20th century painting.

Today  I would like to post a wonderful success story about a little girl who has been home schooled from her earliest days.  Her mother had allowed the daughter, Miss Mae, to come to my home at the age of 8 years, to learn how to sew.  She learned on a piece of checked fabric, called gingham, how to make a perfect hand stitch by following the little squares on the printed fabric.  She first learned how to thread a needle and tie a knot.  I chose a needle with a large eye, and used coloured quilting thread, because it is stiffer and easier for a beginner to handle.

I chose this painting again, by Emile Vernon, because it so exemplifies the innocent joy of Miss Mae, who has been coming each week for 4 years.  

No matter how basic the lesson, I made sure that she went home with a finished project, even if it was not perfect. She made a square pincushion on day, an a round decorator pillow another day. From there she graduated to making simple bags with ribbon handles, table runners and things for the kitchen that required a minimum of sewing.

  One day she made a skirt, just by folding the gingham in half, sewing up the back seam, folding over the waistband and inserting elastic.  She was so thrilled, that she insisted on changing into it and wearing it home. When her father came to get her, he was so pleased that he took her to a fabric store and bought her some fabric. He, however, did not know the difference between the need for one yard and the need for 10 yards, so he bought her something like 17 yards of fabric. He was grinning from ear to ear with the knowledge that his daughter was sewing.  Miss Mae ended up with a huge amount of pink gingham fabric, which she eventually used for things like bedroom curtains, table covers and bedroom accessories.

Her parents have a business that takes them all around to repair equipment in fabric stores and farm stores. Miss Mae accompanies them when they meet their appointments. In one fabric store, she sat silently while her father conducted business, and listened in on a quilting class. Since she is only 12 years old, no one paid any attention to her, but she came home with a wealth of knowledge on the subject and applied it when she got her scraps together.  In other fabric shops where her father repairs equipment, she looks around for new fabric. Each week when she comes back to my house she gleefully shows me what she got. We still have not been able to get her father to be moderate in buying fabric. He's just so happy that she sews, she has to restrain him from buying the whole bolt.

At another place where her father repairs equipment, the proprietor offered to exchange a product for the labour, and told her to choose two teapots from the gift shop.  She chose a yellow one and a pink one with hearts on it. She was so happy that on the way home, she stopped by my house and gave me the pink teapot.

Perhaps the most unique results of Miss Mae's passion for sewing, is that she has gone way ahead of me from the ages of 8 to 12. Because of her interest in this art, her mother has provided her with a very nice sewing machine that runs well. Miss Mae never comes to her weekly homemaking class without sporting a brand new dress made with a Jennie Chancey pattern. Her favorite is the "Romantic" gown, from Molly Gibson's dresses in the movie series, "Wives and Daughters." Miss Mae has made several of these, and gleefully surprises me at the door wearing the dress with a matching bonnet and handbag.

Her progress is not limited to sewing, as once she was taught to follow a recipe, she was able to go home and put on full afternoon high-tea, and meals.  She shows up at the door with various confections made from tea magazines and Taste of Home magazine I have shared with her.

What is perhaps the most dramatic difference I have recently seen in her is her toughness in social situations.  While other girls go around in dark jeans and gray hoodies, standing around like depressing, strange and gloomy creatures in the rain, Miss Mae wears her cheeful tiny prints in public. Girls may dress in the dull garb that I described so that they may look tough, but Miss Mae is the one who is really tough. It takes a lot of confidence at 12 years old, when there is tremendous pressure from the prevailing society, to wear the common clothes put out by the manufacturers to make girls look like boys.  Miss Mae wears her home sewn garments out shopping, out to eat with her family, and everywhere else.  It does not bother her to get the strange looks from people; it seems to amuse her instead.

I often see headlines on magazines at checkout counters about how to turn heads or stand out in the crowd. Miss Mae does not dress this way for that reason, at all. She does it because she loves to sew and the clothing makes her happy to wear, and her parents are so pleased with it.  One day, I asked her if she knew other girls her age. "Yes," she answered, "But they are interested in boys, and I am interested in sewing and cooking."  She gets more attention and favour from adults just by being interested in real life, the kind that matters for the future; the kind of interests that will be useful to a girl into later years.  She will, I am sure, get the notice of some other family who is raising a young man just for a girl like her, and it will be a wonderful thing to see.

Miss Mae is now learning to play the piano when she comes to visit, and she also is branching off into other interests. Sometimes I do not have anything special planned for her, and give her the option of staying home. She says it does not matter, and that she will do whatever I am doing and does not have to have a lesson. She likes to watch me make a soup or a stew from fresh ingredients, and sits eagerly in a kithen chair near the stove, waiting for a sample of it.

If you were to talk to her parents, they would express their delight in raising Miss Mae and seeing her interests in the home increase. They would tell you that she is a great blessing to them and that they have confidence in her.


Laryssa Herbert said...

What a beautiful testimony!

Anonymous said...

Beautiful post.

Anonymous said...

How lovely!

would that I had had these opportunities as a young girl - Miss Mae is very lucky in her friends and tutors!

Tracy said...

How wonderful! I wish I had had someone teach me things like that when I was young. Thank you for sharing, Mrs. Sherman!

Anonymous said...


What a lovely young lady! She is building foundations upon which she will be able to rely for the rest of her life. makes current 'teen' and 'tween' 'culture' seem like nothing but a wasted frippery. I can relate to her toughness of character that successfully stands for what she values even though her peers, for the mostpart, are frittering away these invaluable years. One of my Bible study hostesses granddaughters is like this, sewing, cooking, filled with love for the home and homemaking. Her parents want her to go into 'design', tragically, nobody is nurturing this skill in her as something that will equip her for a life as a homemaker; though she loves everything to do with home, and they encourage her talents, nobody is pointing her home. Miss May is truly blessed to be influenced by you. When times are difficult in years ahead, she will be able to look back to these years spent with you with warmth and affection. You are building up a Godly maiden, indeed!!

may other girls come your way; I feel a great ache in my heart for the girls you described; bejeaned and hooded, sullen, listless...I pray 'Miss May' might spark something within their wrestless hearts, and that they have the courage to break away from the heard; that, even if they feel it to be impossible, that they will see the possibilities of acting upon any call of conscience that may arise, and follow it. I pray that their hearts may be turned. You can almost go to the bank on it, so to speak, that none of them would have had such encouragement and formation as Miss may either from family or adults in places of influence, be they in the home, school or their wider local community.

may God continue to bless you, miss may, and other young ladies yearning, but who feel trapped by circumstance, school and peer-group.

Far Above Rubies said...

This is such a beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I do so wish I had a Miss Mae to play with. I miss my little girls.

Marqueta (Mar-kee-ta) G. said...

Dear Lady Lydia,

This post was such a blessing for me; I had my twelve-and-ten-year old girls read it, and they were very tickled to know that there are actually others out there like they are!

May Miss Mae become a godly woman, who will influence the lives of many through her example of beautiful girlhood.



Anonymous said...

This is a lovely and inspiring story! - Fiona

Anonymous said...

This is a lovely and inspiring story!

Anonymous said...

Dear Lydia,

this truly is a beautiful post. I'm so happy for you and Miss Mae.

I'll be in my 60's soon and have a heart to share homemaking skills, with younger women and young girls. I'm not sure how or where to get started.

For us who are less organized then you, and would like to start sharing with one girl or a group, how would you go about getting started with this project? Are there books that tell how?

How would you go about finding a girl that would be interested in learning these things?

I was never able to interest my own daughter or grand daughter in any kind of homemaking skills no matter how fun I tried to make it.

Rosemary said...

I really enjoyed this post,I'm so grateful that my Mother passed on these skills to me.I am passing them on to my daughter,but as I only have grandsons at the moment I cannot yet pass them to my grandaughters.So many young girls do not make the most of their looks,as you say, they go around in depressing or very revealing clothes,with rings through their lips and tattoos.

Anonymous said...

This is so lovely....it actually brought a tear to my eye! I pray that Miss Mae will find a young man who sincerely appreciates the kind of woman she will become. May God bless you, Mrs. Sherman, for your part in this girl's development. She is lucky to know you. :o)


Slim White Rose said...

Thank you for sharing. Would you kindly ask if Miss Mae would mind to share some pictures of her home-sewn dresses on Home Llving blog? I followed your sewing series with interest, and had some dresses made for myself; and I have a young niece about Miss Mae's age who will be benefited by her example.

Anonymous said...

When I was 11-12 my parents put me in 2, 4-H classes, one was in sewing and one was in Wilton cake decorating. I also was one of the last generations of public Junior High girls who had to take Home Ec. classes in order to "graduate" to the next grade. It included a lot more sewing and first aid applied to babysitting situations than anything else-cooking, nutrition, and cleaning were covered of course, but barely. I loved my 4-H classes and loved Home Ec at school and my teachers and parents were thrilled that I was happy to learn real life skills but I was also lead to look at those skills as leading to the workforce and not towards the home. I also remember being very frustrated because I wanted to develop those skills outside of my classrooms and practice them at home. I asked for Wilton cake decorating tips and professional plastic icing bags as well as professional color tubes every year for my birthday and Christmas time all the way up to the year I graduated high school. In the end, I had to save up for them with my left over after bills money when I was a college wife. I had a basic sewing kit I could use at home but my parents would never let me use my mother's sewing machine unless I was being supervised just in case I sewed through my fingers on accident and they had to take me to the hospital or what if I broke the machine. Of course, my working mother had no use for her sewing machine or any time to supervise me. I now have been given her old machine, which I appreciate but I wish I would have been encouraged a bit more in my homemaking skills. Now, I have very little time to practice either because of the age of my son but it's nice to know that when he is a bit older and needs less attention that I will be able to relearn those skills once more.

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful story! Thank you for sharing :)

Mrs. U said...

What a blessing to read this!! Thank you for sharing about sweet Miss Mae!! She must truly be a delight and I pray that my daughter will have such a happy heart for the home one day.

Mrs. U

Little Natural Cottage said...

What a refreshing young lady, thank you for sharing about her! I am a mother with young daughters, ages 6 and almost 4, and my prayer and dream is to raise little ladies just like your Miss Mae.

My Amy wants to learn to sew... she is 6 years old. Is that too young to start? I am not a particularly talented seamstress, but I can teach her the basics. Any thoughts you'd like to share, Lydia?

~Kristy @ Homemaker's Cottage

Ginger said...

Six is a wonderful age to learn. All my girls learned before then. Maybe you can learn together. There are some very sweet sewing books geared towards little girls. One that I have particularly in mind is See and Sew: A Sewing Book for Children by Tina Davis. I also like the Mary Francis sewing book for girls a bit more experience.

Anonymous said...

Oh, Mrs. Sherman,

That is so beautiful! I am so delighted to know that their are other girls out there like my girls!

My girls are learning to sew as well, and as my husband likes to say "we are raising them counter-culturally."

What a blessing that you have each other to be friends!

Patty said...

That's a beautiful painting and a great sentiment!

Lydia said...

Miss Mae is only 12 and will not be having her photos on the internet, but we would be glad to put the dresses she has sewn, on the dress form some time and take pictures for this post.

You do not have to be organized to share some little thing with a young girl. She would likely be happy just to do anything. Make a scrap card, or bake a cake, show her how to arrange a vase of flowers you just picked, or sew some little stuffed animal from calico. You can make your own patterns. Doll clothes are a great way to learn to sew grown up clothes. I took her to the ceramic store the last time she stayed and showed her the green ware and then toured the store to show her what all you have to do for the finished project.Planting something in a small pot is a good activity, especially if it is going to be something to eat later on. There is no end to what you can do in teaching about the home.

Lydia said...

To find someone to teach you might offer any mothers to come over for the lessons and share tea with them. Eight years old is a good time to begin, because if you do not, they find other things to get interestedin (boys, cell phones, movies, fashion) and then you cannot get their interest as easy.

Lydia said...

You might also teach a young girl how to clean up a living room. It gets instant results and it is a skill she can take straight home. Show her how to straighten pillows and throws, how to make a coffee table look good, or an end table.

Anonymous said...

such a sweet narrative of a lovely ministry to a young girl! As adult ladies, we must keep our eyes open for the possibility of the same for a young girl or two in our own neighborhoods. Thank you Lydia for offering your own testimony of Miss Mae and her 'studies' under your creative, guiding hand and heart.

Anonymous said...

....and aren't the paintings as beautiful as can be??!!!

Crown of Beauty said...

Lovely blog. I came over from Andrea.

My name is Lidia too, spelled the Spanish way.


Anonymous said...

Dear Lydia,

what is your method for teaching homemaking skills or anything to a child?
Do you make a game of it, or try to make the job fun by working right along side the child.

Do you offer correction when the job is not the way you instructed? Do you redo things after the job is done or do you make the child stick with the job until it is done to your specifications?

When kids are really young they have a natural yearning to please and be helpful. You are right when you say catch them young, because there are too many things to snatch away their attention.
How do you hold their attention to teach any skill?

Lydia said...

what is your method for teaching homemaking skills or anything to a child?

Do you make a game of it, or try to make the job fun by working right along side the child.

You begin by making a sewing card. Instructions for these can be found in craft books and on the web. My little girl had one that was shaped like a heart and you laced a bright pink shoe lace through it. The point of the lace was like a needle but not harmful. You can make these cards into fruit shapes, using iron on stiffner between fabric and zig-zagging the edges and putting holes aound it. They look lovely in a basket on the coffee table when not in use, especially if you use those pretty shabby-chic or vintage colours or cheeful types of your choice. Get the sparkling laces or interesting variagated shoe laces. There are instructions for these kinds of kits, on the web and in books.

Do you offer correction when the job is not the way you instructed?

I usually say that in order to make it look perfect, you have to sew it this way, and then demonstrate. I tell her that if she gets it perfect I will let her take it home. There is actually no way she could not do it the way I instructed, as I will be sitting next to her and watching every move she makes. She does not have much of a chance to mess up. I can catch her just before she does something wrong and prevent it.

Do you redo things after the job is done or do you make the child stick with the job until it is done to your specifications?

I do not re-do it but as I said, usually they dont have a chance to mess up when under my tutorship. I guide their hands and teach them to be careful each moment.

When kids are really young they have a natural yearning to please and be helpful. You are right when you say catch them young, because there are too many things to snatch away their attention.

If you do not get them very young, they will have distracting thoughts and want instead to follow the prevailing culture. Six or eight is not too young to teach them simple things.

How do you hold their attention to teach any skill?

You make the project small enough and easy enough that they can hold their attention long enough to finish it. If it is long, you intersperse a tea time break and talk about the project and what people would want to use such a thing for, or what its history is, or how it will look in their house. Everything you do as a teacher is geared to the lesson at hand.

The girl began by staying only an hour, but later, was allowed to stay as long as she wished....which was sometimes quite a long time. But as she grew older, she wanted to see what all she could do while she was here so she wanted to stay as long as she could.

moi said...

A very lovely blog, I'm doing the same thing with my two daughters. What a joy it is to watch them catch on and create something! The pride in their eyes says it all.

Kathie Truitt said...

Oh, how I wish you had posted pictures, but I'm sure her parents probably don't want her on the internet. Still, it would be lovely to see Miss Mae wearing a few of her creations.

Katherine said...

How sweet!

Lisa said...

What a touching and charming story!

Polly said...

She sounds so charming! What fun it must be to spend some time with her each week.

And I had to laugh at her father's fabric-buying enthusiasm. That's so sweet!