Women’s Art Work – Hemming Up Life’s Unravelings

Photo of Nancy SmeltzerNancy Smeltzer, MFA

As a neighbor’s daughter was getting ready to go out to a party, she asked me if I would some time show her how to hem up the pants she was wearing. It brought back memories of Home Economics classes that all of the girls took back when those grades in school were called Junior High. (The boys took Shop class, and it never would have occurred to us to even consider to learn any of the information the other group was learning.) I’ve hemmed up many pairs of pants and skirts over the years, as until I began taking Egoscue exercise classes, my left leg was 1 1 /2″ ( 3.75cm) shorter than the other. (That’s no longer the case, now that my back is straighter). I then began to look at how woman’s sewing, while having the practical use of taking care of her family’s needs, was a metaphor of traditional women’s work of mending up what life often unraveled.

I know for myself, there have been many hours where I have poured myself into my intensively beaded art quilts when my life seemed as if it was falling apart. Through men leaving me, betrayals, family crises, and the other upheavals that come along with living, I’ve found that hours of beading and sewing, sewing and beading have gotten me through a number of life’s downfalls. It appears as if other women have turned to sewing, too, when faced with turmoil. Mourning quilts were often a way a community came together to help comfort a family where there was a loss. The previous link tells of a poignant recounting of where a baby had died along the trail as a wagon train moved westward. Having no wood to make a coffin, the baby was buried in a quilt that the other women quickly made out of precious fabric they had been taking to their new homes, wherever that might be.

During Victorian times, the craft of hair art developed. Originally it developed to preserve a locket of hair from a deceased loved one, usually from a child or someone who died young. The art form developed into quite elaborate weavings, some times as a pin, sometimes as a locket or bracelet. On the link above, there were calls for artists, as people were wanting to have memorial art made, so I imagine that there are still some people that would like to have their loved one remembered with a visual reminder of the delicate life that had passed.

When I first began art quilting professionally back in the early 80s, the genre was still looked on as “women’s work”, and as such, it was very hard to get into “serious” art exhibits. Now the medium is recognized, collected, and has international exhibits of their own. As elaborate as my pieces have become, they still had their humble beginnings in learning how to make hem and aprons back in Home Ec class so very many years ago.

How did you begin your artistic medium? Did you learn it in art school, or did it have more humble beginnings? 

Why not leave a comment as to your thoughts on this posting. Please take a minute, fill out the form below or by clicking on the “comments/no comments link” at the top of the posting, and then share your ideas with the rest of us. We all grow when we share our thoughts and impressions, so why not join our growing community of those who appreciate art quilts and textile arts. We’d love to hear from you!… and PLEASE tell like minded souls about this blog! The more readers and contributors, the more I write because encouragement helps the words flow!

You can see more of my art work on my web site at www.fiberfantasies.com (be patient as it loads; it’s worth it), my spiritual healing work at www.transitionportals.com and can find me on Google + , Facebook (for Transition Portals) Facebook (for Fiber Fantasies),  and Twitter.

To find out how to buy my art work, please check out “How to Buy my Art Work” in the “Pages” section to the right of this blog.


  1. Nina-Marie says:

    First of all – I’ll admit it – I had to watch a youtube video on how to hem pants this summer to get my teen’s uniform ones done. I mean – I quilt – I don’t sew. I came to quilting by getting a book by mistake. After doing traditional quilting for 7 years I went to Quilting by the Lake to take a class with Paula Nadelstern because she’s amazing. I learned a ton that week – most of which – I didn’t want to make quilt’s like Paula – LOL! But it did start me on my art quilt journey. I was literally shocked 4 yrs later when a lady tracked me down to buy my art quilt that was at our VERY traditional fair. Didn’t she know that it was my first 3rd place ribbon EVER? (I was a blue ribbon girl) – so didn’t get the blue that year – but she paid me hundreds of dollars for it – so I thought – wow there might be something in this art quilting – LOL!

  2. Dear Nina-Marie, as I said in the blog, I did learn to sew at an early age. My mother made my clothes until I was in junior high and I wanted “store bought clothes” like the other girls. I can remember going with her near the end of the summer as she went to get the material for that year’s school dresses. It was usually to Mary Jo’s Fabric store (now in Gastonia, NC, but then in Dallas, NC) and I would play under the tables of fabric with the mountains of thread that would fall on the floor.
    So, I come by sewing honestly, but do I sew for myself???? No way, unless it’s something that I can’t buy in a store.

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