How To Sew A Button

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Self magazine senior staff writer Erin Bried, author of How to Sew a Button: And Other Nifty Things Your Grandmother Knew (Ballantine Books, 2009), passes along the everyday grandmotherly wisdom she has acquired.

What did your grandmother teach you? What particular tricks or advice did you glean from an older friend or relative? Comment below!

The Brian Lehrer Show staff has compiled their favorite grandma songs on the blog. Check it out here and suggest your own!


Erin Bried

Comments [26]

Amy from Manhattan

Jake [20]--Yeah, I had what my HS called Home Arts. (I wanted to take shop, but they wouldn't let me!) I finished sewing the apron (& still have it), but not the jumper. These days I can do simple repair sewing, & that's about it. There's this iron-on mesh stuff that's great for hems.... And I did manage to learn some of the shop stuff from the Time-Life home repair books.

Dec. 23 2009 01:19 AM
Luann from Brooklyn, NY

I love that younger people are discovering that the way "the greatest generation" did things is not only something that we should remember, but something that may inspire us to get through these tough economic times. I like the idea that "your wealth has nothing to do with your bank account" but everything to do with the way you live your life. It also made me think of my own grandmother, who, more than anything, taught me kindness. Thats something we could all do to remember.

Dec. 22 2009 08:33 PM
maggie d'aversa from whitehouse station, nj

Your interview with Erin Bried disturbed me so much that I turned the radio off. Her perspective reflects the self-absorption that so many people have and it's all about why people are now into the DIY trend. It's because they can which in itself speaks volumes - it's another sign of their affluence, their all important self image, and a "feel/look/do better" attitude that creates divisions in society. Ms. Bried,through her comments, defined her love affair with prestige and power by a simple concept of her grandmother's way of life. Was she promoting that way of life on your show or her book?

Dec. 22 2009 07:45 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I'm glad to hear Erin countering the idea that there was male & female "stuff" even in her grandparents' day! And I have to say I'm a little dismayed to hear Brian making that division. I can say, if not proudly, that I have about equal degrees of competence & incompetence in both supposed categories.

But I also have to say I can't understand mistaking chard for rhubarb unless the store was selling red chard stalks w/the rest of the leaf stripped off! (1 leaf along the length of the stalk, not multiple ones at the end of it, as w/rhubarb.)

Dec. 22 2009 01:02 PM
Madeleine from Brooklyn, NY

I was taught to sew as a child and it is an INVALUABLE skill, I cannot stress this enough. Not only to fix every day rips and tears and lost buttons but to be able to make clothes, curtains, pillows, costumes...

If you can read and follow directions you can do simple skills!!!

Dec. 22 2009 12:02 PM
Allison from Manhattan

I am a 58-year old woman who can: sew and tailor clothes, upholster furniture, grow vegetables and flowers, refinish furniture, fix things around the house, knit, cook homestyle or throw an elegant dinner party, train pets, glaze windows, paint a room or a house, and on and on. All of these I learned from my mother, father, grandmother, grandfather and uncles and aunts. Their motto: if you can do these things, you may not have money sometimes but you'll never be poor.

Dec. 22 2009 12:01 PM
Jake from Manhattan

I didn't need my grandmother to teach me to sew. Didn't anyone else have Home Ec as a requirement in school?

Dec. 22 2009 11:59 AM
Jason C from Brooklyn

There are so many resources online with step by step insturctions for any of this stuff and then some.

Dec. 22 2009 11:58 AM

I think you get a lot of common sense having to figure things out and do for yourself. Our mother made us learn to tailor/sew with no idea that we would be designing our own prom dresses and getting to keep the money - having more original outfits out of better fabric that fit us better - also her wedding cookbook had instructions on how to pluck a chicken - not that she knew how but she's a genius at 90 - there is no problem she can't solve. (We did know we needed to call the plumber though)

Dec. 22 2009 11:58 AM
karen from nj

My grandma couldn't cook, sew or do any of those things. I, however can my own applesauce, make sauerkraut and have a magnificent perennial garden. I learned it all from books because what my grandma did teach me was that reading was the most important skill in the world and a library book can teach you how to do anything you need to do.

Dec. 22 2009 11:58 AM
Claire from White Plains

I would be interested in knowing the age of the author. While I (63 years old) learned to sew, cook, crochet, etc., at the foot of my mother, my daughters did not. My mother did not work out of the home, but I did. That is the difference, I think. I did not see the importance of my daughters learning these things. Now I regret it.

Dec. 22 2009 11:58 AM
Rachel from Crown Heights, Brooklyn NY

I was a private school teacher in Brooklyn for a couple of years. In my third grade class, knitting became a fad equivalent to say, hemp necklaces or hair braiding when I was a kid in the 90's. One of the most enthusiastic knitters in my class was also one of the most 'boyish' boys, an athlete and little alpha male in the making. I think one of the most exciting results of this cultural trend toward DIY is that it is concurrent with a trend toward blurring gender barriers.

I haven't read this book, but it seems like a weakness of it might be that it focuses on traditionally "grandma" activities. My grandmother lived alone for many years, and surely knew those more 'masculine' handy talents, like how to fix a toilet and repair a windowsill, etc..

Dec. 22 2009 11:56 AM
CBrown from Brooklyn

My fiancee's Chinese grandmother just died at age 92. There was an acute sense of loss of knowledge, especially re: cooking. Cleaning out her apartment, we found all sorts of cooking implements that we couldn't even identify, and neither she nor her parents learned traditional chinese cooking techniques. At the funeral, there were all sorts of rituals and traditions that even the older generation couldn't explain. These aren't simple skills like button sewing or fixing a faucet that can be easily learned via google or a trip to the library or bookstore. It's culturally specific knowledge that's slipping away forever.

Dec. 22 2009 11:56 AM
Meg from Montclair

Unfortunately I not only missed learning these types of things from my grandmothers, but my own mom, who knew how to do many of the things you are talking about, got sick at a very young age from both Huntington's disease and Alzheimer's, so I missed out on learning from her as well. I never learned how to sew a button, but I pretend like I know how anyway.

Dec. 22 2009 11:56 AM
Shana from Clinton Hill/Fort Greene, Brooklyn

My maternal grandmother was a working single mother and a downright awful cook. My mother was taught to cook by my father (and he only taught her the specific things he likes to eat). Pretty much I had to teach myself to cook, learned to sew at school (studied fashion), and learned all the great homemade cleaning stuff from Real Simple. I did learn how to set a table from my mother since she had a book on that, and she made my sister and me do everything from laundry to dishes starting at nine. My working mother did sew clothing and cook a meal for us almost every night; I just never liked the food she made. And my father taught me to fear money! Leading me to be a voracious saver.

Dec. 22 2009 11:56 AM
MichaelB from Morningside Heights

This ties into recent items on WNYC, 60 Minutes, and the NYTimes, about working with our hands.

As a man who knows how to work with tools and fix things, I always admire women who can do some of the "old" domestic arts. There's something very satisfying and attractive about that to me.

Dec. 22 2009 11:55 AM

Get back to me when the guests grandmother can replace a cpu fan or upgrade ram on a laptop...

But seriously my grandmother taught my sister sewing and knitting which helped her get started in the fashion industry because she could build a quality dress from scratch when most people have good design ideas but can't make it actually fit or understand the materials required.

Dec. 22 2009 11:55 AM
Jake from Manhattan

On the topic of men, I notice that these days more men know how to sew a button and and make a bed. I have to assume that it's because these are tasks that you perform with your hands and it seems that it's more the women who are adverse to them these days.

Dec. 22 2009 11:55 AM

I'm 18 and a boy, and I would say that the so-called "guy-things" have been lost more.

My female friends can bake and even I can sew a button.
I can't fix a car, do basic plumbing or wiring, or repair small things around the house - all things my father and grandfather can do.

Dec. 22 2009 11:55 AM
Peter Benton from Brooklyn

My grandfather taught me not to smoke by letting me try smoking one of his white owl cigars on the porch when the women were out. After I smoked 1/4 of it and threw up, he said, "smoking is a nasty, dirty habit. Don't you ever do it!"

Dec. 22 2009 11:55 AM
Sue from North Salem, NY

My great-grandmother taught me everything about gardening and she also showed me how to propogate roses. This is amazingly simple yet seems to amaze all my friends.

Dec. 22 2009 11:54 AM
Amy from Long Island

My Grandma could replace and putty windows, do plumbing repairs, tend to an ancient creaky boiler--none of which, I admit, I can do.

Dec. 22 2009 11:54 AM
yvette from Barcelona

I too suffer from (DE) Domestication Disfunction, however, my grandmother taught me how to tend rabbits real well. I really loved them, and her!

Dec. 22 2009 11:53 AM

"You can learn it". Duh.

Dec. 22 2009 11:50 AM
Jina from Eastchester, NY

From an aunt and corroborated by my grandmother: cut off about 1/2" off the end of the cucumber where it was attached to the vine and then give it a sniff. If it smells a little tart/bitter, rub the two cut pieces together and leave them sitting on the counter (the pieces will adhere) for about 15 minutes or so. This will take the bitterness away.

Dec. 22 2009 09:26 AM
AEB from Queens

This book sounds great.

The younger adults who will likely read it might also consider going directly to their older friends and relatives. These reciprocal relationships have an intergenerational benefit.

I sit in on a knitting group of older women and learn about alot more than knitting.

Dec. 22 2009 07:09 AM

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