Monthly Archives: February 2013

A Tailor — Made President

My son in fifth grade recently was assigned to write and present a report on Andrew Johnson, the 17th president of the United States.

“I have to wear a costume for extra credit,” my son said, handing me a picture of a somber man in a dark suit, vest and bowtie.

“Great!” I said. I like projects.

“For props, I’m going to bring in my stuffed animal mouse and a measuring tape,” he said, passing me by and heading toward the kitchen. I followed.

“A mouse?” I asked.

“He had white mice as pets,” my son answered.

“Wow. And a measuring tape?” I continued.

“He was a tailor. He made his own clothes, even when he was president,” my son answered.

This got my attention – a president who makes his own clothes.

I got a great idea for my son’s project.

“For your presentation, you could make your own vest!” I said. I went upstairs and browsed through my patterns. I had a woman’s vest that could be made in one hour, and a man’s vest that didn’t specify how long it would take to make. I took them downstairs and flashed them at my son, who was eating a bowl of cereal at the kitchen table.

After researching the politician’s accomplishments, my son concluded that Johnson had some problems as a leader. He got drunk before his inauguration as Lincoln’s vice president; he was the first American president to be impeached; and he made a lot of unpopular decisions.

On the cool side, my son noted that under Johnson’s leadership, the United States bought Alaska.

As the project due date grew closer, I asked my son if I should buy some black fabric so he could make a vest.

“Making a vest would be a guaranteed ‘A’!” I suggested. “Imagine a president who makes his own clothes. And I read that Johnson made a quilt for his first sweetheart, Mary Wood. Would you like to make a mini-quilt?”

“I’ll think about it,” my son said.

He never made the vest or the quilt, but he got an ‘A+’ on his presentation and report.

I thought the report was incomplete and left a lot of unanswered questions.

Did Johnson have a designated sewing room in the White House where he kept a machine, scissors, pins and measuring tapes? Did he sit at his desk in the oval office and stitch hems with a needle and thread? Did he pick out his own fabric and make his own patterns? How did this work? Did someone bring supplies to the White House or did he spend time browsing the local fabric store? Is one of the suits he made on display somewhere like the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC, or the President Andrew Johnson Museum and Library in Greenville, Tenn.?

“Hey,” I told my fifth grader. “I’m proud of your ‘A+’, but you need to elaborate some of the details in your report. I want to know more about Johnson’s sewing operations.”

“Mom,” he said, “save something for sixth grade.”

LESSON ON WEEK 37: Fifth graders are not as interested in the history of sewing as some of their moms are.
QUESTION OF THE DAY: When did the skills of sewing transition from being a mundane necessity to a creative hobby?
PROGRESS: Yet another Harry Potter-like scarf completed.


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