Or alternatively how to become a better and more independent sewer.
Home Economics made me the sewer I am today and I am forever grateful for the lessons that it has taught me. It saddens me that this is not a system of education that is easily available to the next generation. While it still exists in some form or another today I feel much emphasis is being placed on the fashion aspect of it rather than the sewing itself which is the core skill at the heart of any home ec program.
I took 10 years of home economics altogether. At my intermediate school, it was compulsory to take cooking, clothing, woodworking and metal working for 2 years. In high school, one year of home economics was also mandatory but I continued to take clothing and textiles every year after that. Once I had emigrated to America I then continued my home economics education by studying fashion at El Camino College and FIDM for another 3 years. I still considered it home economics because most fashion departments evolved out of the home economics programs, renamed and adapting for the changing world.
High school is 5 years in New Zealand in case your wondering since we start intermediate school at ages 10-11. At some point, the name changed to textile technology around the same time typing class got a makeover. I can’t remember what they called it since I never learned how to type.
I’m glad they didn’t rename it “Fashion” like many home economics department did because I feel it turns it into something more fanciful than it is and places the emphasis on the artistic not the technical aspects of sewing.
Home Ec as I experienced it was not a cupcake course. In the final three years of high school, I was assessed not only by my completed garments but also by a technique notebook and a three-hour long exam just like every other academic class. It taught me to be disciplined, that your methodology matters and also to accept that criticism is part of the process. The requirements of the class allowed me to apply the same academic discipline to my sewing as I did to the “other” economics.
Projects were never as simple as grabbing a pattern and fabric and going at it. You had to select your pattern, have it improved by the instructor. You then had to make your alterations and then calculate the yardage needed. No trusting the fabric requirements on the envelope. Fabric buying was almost always a field trip worth looking forward to. Once the fabric was selected you were to test your layout and no cutting until the instructor approved. The order of operations had to be planned and submitted with a list of techniques that had been previously demonstrated in your sewing notebook (that deserves it’s own separate post). Construction was slow and meticulous with every seam pressed as needed.
It sounds like a lot of work and it was but if you followed this level of discipline you 90% of the time end up with a completed project that you were proud of. Every year I took clothing the process was quicker as I had built up my knowledge of fabrics and techniques. It’s the discipline and thoughtful analysis that has made a fast and accurate sewer. While I still occasionally end up with items that don’t work out it usually can usually be traced to skipping steps or using materials I know won’t work.
I understand that many people might have chosen not to take home economics for what it has historically represented and I appreciate that. I chose it because of the skills I wanted to acquire from. Since for most of us our days of home ec is long behind us but we can still use some of it’s methods to ensure success. Technique notebooks for both sewing and patternmaking skills is still part of my process and I still have the ones I did in college and add to them occasionally. I am in the process of building a bra specific library of notebooks that covers sewing, patterns and fabric dictionary so I make sure even if I forget I still have a reference.
Did you take home economics? Did your experience match mine?