Friday, May 29, 2009

A Stitch in Time

"Will this thread work with this fleece?" I asked the 50 something clerk standing confidently behind the counter at the fabric store. Unlike many retail outlets, fabric departments are not tended by teenagers. 99.999999% of teens can't thread a sewing machine, let alone set a sleeve, bind a button hole, or install a zipper. Girls only, home economics (sewing and cooking) were required subjects when I entered junior high. My first project was exactly the same as every other girl's. An apron. I could choose one yard of any color I liked as long as it was gingham. Woven gingham, not that flimsy printed on stuff. By the end of the semester, every mother of a seventh grade girl at Berkley Junior High was trying to figure out what to do with her customized apron. Since steering a jackhammering needle down a perfectly straight line, one foot on a lurching power pedal, WATCH OUT FOR YOUR FINGERS, is not a skill that comes that naturally to a 12-year-old, our final projects weren't exactly runway perfect. While having those gingham lines to follow was supposed to help, mostly we learned an important life lesson in class: Ripping out and starting over is part of the process. I liked having that one class period a day with just the girls.

Sewing was distinctively a girl thing and I liked it. My granny tutored me in the summers and with a few extra lessons in tailoring from the local Singer center, I actually got pretty good at making facings lie flat and crisp edges. And then in college, about the time Virginia Slims tried to convince women that we'd come a long way baby, long enough that we could die of lung cancer at the same rate as men, I bought my own sewing machine for the equivalent of 100 minimum wage hours (a little less than $135). Blackberries and laptops may have been glimmers in someone's eyes, but in mine, I was set. That zig zag machine and my new electric Underwood were the only two machines I'd ever need.

Like riding a bike, sewing skills stay with you for life. I could recreate that apron tomorrow. Over the years I've made drapes, curtains, pants, suits, kids nighties. Some projects to be worn, and others soon found their way to the back of the closet with that first apron. No matter. I just like doing it. But like finger painting and star gazing, I just don't do it that much anymore. But I love the new fabric smell, putting the pins in, taking them out, even ripping and starting over is okay. Part of the process. Sewing is a novelty now. I've outsourced my own craftsmanship.

Unfortunately somewhere between their T Ball games and pre-calculus, I forgot to pass this knowledge along to my daughters who have never learned to sew. So when Kelly wanted Thomas to have a new blanket with weights in it (new idea for making restless little sleepers less, well, restless) I welcomed the task. No gingham, but being a bit rusty, I did choose a fleece with a block pattern.

Along with the wagon full of mother-regrets I and every other mother drag around, I deeply regret this oversight. And it's not because every time they need a hem tacked up or a split re-seamed they come to me -- I like that part. Because somehow, treading water in the tsunami of self-doubt that was seventh grade, using an overworked checkered apron as a sail, I managed to gain some self confidence. Suddenly I not only knew how dresses and skirts worked from the inside out, I began to understand how tables and cabinets are made. How pieces can be notched and attached. How to make a pattern. To know what it means to have a vision and make it. The ability to sew is part of the fabric of me, being a constructionist is part of who I am and how I view the world -- in little pieces that just might work if put together right.

So, tonight while adding the binding to Thomas' blanket spread out on the dining room table, twirling thread between my fingers to make knots, I was listening to the misogynistic debate over Sotomayer. Does she think she's better than white guys? (doubtful, but has she had to work harder than white guys to get where she is?) Is she smart enough? (ivy league, summa cum laude, pahleeze) Limbaugh compared her to David Duke of the KKK despite her lack of hateful actions or rhetoric and G. Gordon Liddy even went so far as to say he hopes he doesn't have a case come before her while she is menstruating. How stupid can an white male convicted criminal be? She's 54 years old. In lawyer speak, we call that twisted point moot. (Maybe he was the white guy she was talking about having better judgment than. Eh?) Who are these people and why does the news media give them a platform? Honestly, this kind of rhetoric really tests a woman's opposition to gratuitous, blood spattering violence, especially one no longer in possession of a gingham apron.

Which is all to say, us fifty something women still need some girls only time with the young ones. Passing along such important wisdom such as "you can't go wrong with dual duty thread," teaching them how things are made from the inside out. How to be constructionists in their own lives. Clearly, we might have come a long way, but not long enough.


Shauna said...

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Lee Ann Spillane said...

Oh to be able to sew confidently! The stories I could tell about shorts put together upside down or the curtains my mom took home so that she could make them right (after buying all new fabric). How'd the blanket come out? Sounds so cozy!

Sparroweye said...

I was like a home ec reject in 1960. My one sewing project I made a plaid skirt with unmatched seams. My mother said, "Sewing is not your thing". She tried. My mother should have been a clothes designer instead she went with art. I had the most beautiful clothes, lined, embroidered, designed especially for me. And did I appreciate it. No, I wanted those Gap clothes. My mother said I never found the grain or the salvage, never placed the pattern on correctly. And of course the big no no, not matching the seams on plaid material. I think I got a D on my skirt. But I did get an A in cooking. I inherited my mother's computerized Bernina. I keep saying, I'm going to learn, it's never too late. I even paid over a hundred dollars to get it oiled and serviced. I think I'll go find a table to set it up on.

jers52 said...

Sarah, I just came across your blog today, when searching for all the presenters we have had at PCTELA (PA Council of Teachers of English and Language Arts) Your writing, poetry and sewing machine stories makes me smile. Thank you! Like you , I am the one to stitch it up in my family and circle of friends. I tend to make quilts these days... for other peoples newborns. If I should see you I will share my quilt stories - 31 of them including the one in process.
Jan Spohn