Deanna Hendriks can’t remember not sewing.
Growing up in the Heinsburg, Alta. area, she remembers watching her mother and grandmothers at their sewing machines. She was intrigued by the beautiful clothing they would make, and although she wasn’t permitted to use the machine herself until she was 10 years old, the young Hendriks, working with needle and thread, was inspired to fashion clothes as fine as theirs.
“I consider it an art form,” she said. “If you look at the patterns, the detail in the garments is just amazing. The way we dress is such a form of self-expression, and that’s an artistic thing to me as well.”
While she was sewing she started accumulating a collection of old sewing patterns, which are paper templates used to trace parts of an article of clothing onto a piece of fabric, before cutting them out and sewing them together. What started as a habit soon turned into a collection.
For the past 25 years Hendriks has been collecting vintage sewing patterns. Hendriks says they are hard to find because more people are holding on to them. They also were not designed to last. She has to store her collection with care to keep her pieces in good condition.
“The fact that any do survive is a miracle because they were meant to be used and discarded,” she said,
Her passion for collecting led her to the Commercial Pattern Archive project at the University of Rhode Island, where clothing patterns from 1868 to 2000 are digitally preserved. Most of the collected patterns come from universities and museums. Hendricks is the project’s sole private collector.
“I’ve got about 600 patterns scanned and the information about them all put together and appended to this digital database,” she said. “The information about them is still so important because the patterns represent us as a society. How we dress reflects who we are as a society, so how we sew is the same thing.”
Despite owning a large pattern collection, Hendriks has only been using them to make clothing for about the last 10 years.
“I kept looking at these beautiful patterns and wondering what would it look like in three dimensions,” she said. “It’s one thing to see an artist’s rendering, but it’s another to see a garment done-up, so that’s when I first started doing it. And I’ve always loved old movies too so it was kind of like being able to bring the past to life.”
Hendriks first started sewing professionally when her children were small and it was a good way to make some money while at home with the kids. In the past year, Hendriks decided to make it “official,” starting her Spruce Lake, Sask.-based business, Era Apparel, where she sells clothing made from vintage patterns.
Now she is passing on her knowledge and skills by teaching sewing classes at the Lloydminster Cultural and Science Centre. She says sewing has always been a social activity, dating back to the communal quilting bees of old, and she wants to bring that back.
“I really want to see people feel the joy of sewing because I sew every single day and I love it,” she said.
“So I figure if I get enough people on board with sewing I’ll have my own community of seamstresses that I can visit with and we can bounce ideas off each other and inspire one another. I’ve just been hungry for that.”
Even though Hendriks is now old enough to use the sewing machine on her own, she is still making clothes just like her grandmothers used to do.