But with mass merchandising and the advent of department stores, the easy availability of ready-made garments made such homespun skills obsolete.
Now, thanks to the popularity of TV shows such as "Project Runway" and social media sites such as Pinterest and Instagram, the art and craft of sewing is enjoying an unprecedented resurgence.
"Children really are so inspired by what they see on reality shows," said Cindy Beitzel, a professional seamstress who conducts sewing classes for children, teens and adults for the St. Charles Park District. "They'll come to me and say, 'One day I'm going to make something like that. I want to be a fashion designer or something like that,' which is really cool."
But before they can get to the heady world of haute couture, students need to master the basics, and classes such as Sewing Basics for adults ages 16 and older, Learn to Sew for ages 6 and above and Sew Together - Mom & Me for children ages 5 to 15 and their parent, stress the fundamentals - with emphasis on the fun.
"A lot of them may come in a little bit nervous but after I've taught them some basic techniques and given them some safety information, they start to feel better," said Beitzel. "Once they've practiced first with paper and are ready to move to fabric, that gives them a huge leap in confidence."
Students can then translate these new-found skills into a variety of projects. From mom-and-me accessories to wardrobes for their favorite dolls, each month a different project helps refine their sewing skills and broaden their horizons to a world of creativity that is as vast as their own imaginations.
"I have little girls who have come to me after doing a project like making headbands, for instance and say, 'Miss Cindy I'm selling these with my friends or with my school' and it's great to know that they were inspired by these classes," said Beitzel.
Sewing not only builds creativity and confidence that they could create and complete something of their very own, it also helps them develop crucial physical and mental skills that can have wide-ranging applications.
"They don't realize they're using so much hand-eye coordination to stay on a straight line or to push a foot control," said Beitzel. "It's more than watching a stitch go. They are focusing, they're staying away from their phones, and they are immersed in the project that they're creating."
Beitzel brings everything a student could need to her sewing classes, traveling with about a half-dozen Brother sewing machines, plus threads, scissors, patterns and materials.
"It's frustrating for a parent, especially, to face a supply list and have no idea what they're buying," said Beitzel. "I bring it as a package and then, if a student wants to continue on their own at home, they have experience with quality products and will know what to invest in."
Beginning projects can be as simple as drawstring bags and pillow cases that reinforce basic skills like straight stitching, seams and hems. But kids love anything they can stuff, so Beitzel will include projects like the upcoming "Sew an Emoji Pillow" or, for the holidays, "Sew a Turkey Friend" that completes a cuddly, soft turkey just in time for the holidays. And kids love soft things, too, so they popular "Sew a Mermaid/Shark Tail Blanket" class will let kids make a cozy, one-of-a-kind item of their very own.
"Kids are very project-based learners," said Beitzel. "I offer a different project each class, but go over all the basic techniques and safety practices each time and so they receive reinforcement every time they come to class, but they apply it to a new challenge."
Older teens and adults who already have some sewing skills to their credit can take classes that can reinforce and refresh what they already know. In this case, Beitzel will create projects that require the use of a pattern to make simple pajama bottoms, or maybe a jacket with pockets.
"Learning to read a pattern is like learning to read a different language," said Beitzel, who will help students develop the skills to select patterns that will be easy for them to work with on their own.
Developing skills in beginner, intermediate and project-based sewing classes produce immediate results - a pillow to cuddle, new pants to wear -- and instill talents that will last a lifetime.
"I hear students say that they love sewing because they can be creative, pick their own patterns and fabrics and make something of their own from beginning to end," said Beitzel. "It's a life skill that they may not realize they are learning now, but when they're older and perhaps have a family of their own, these abilities will help them make Halloween costumes for their own child or help them cost-effectively decorate their home."
For more information on sewing classes for all skill levels, contact Josh Williams, Community Center Supervisor, at 630-513-4329.