My mom sewed for me as a child, and I’ve wanted to learn how for a long time. I was able to request any costume I wanted for Halloween because she could make it for me. I was a carrot one year and a treasure troll another. To this day, I look down on store-bought costumes. There, I said it.
So I set the goal to learn to sew this summer. I had no idea what I was in for and am still going through the process.
I borrowed my mother-in-law’s sewing machine, (which I have yet to use) and started looking at patterns.
I was so inexperienced in the language of sewing that I couldn’t even pick a pattern and fabric by myself. And sewing has its own language. The best analogy I can think of is when you are learning to cook and the recipe asks you to “saute the diced onions,” but you don’t yet know what saute or diced means, and you also aren’t quite sure where to find onions. Whole other language.
So I asked for my mom’s help while I was in Greenville for a few days. We started at Hancock’s and picked out a simple tank top pattern. She knew what I shouldn’t pick, like button holes or anything that required delicate fabric. She showed me how to figure out how much fabric to buy, and then the cutting began.
I sat on the floor of her office with my pattern and fabric for two hours, cutting and talking and cutting and talking. We spoke about her upcoming wedding in June 2014 and plans for her retirement. We reminisced about my godmother, who died years ago, yet we still both think of her often. My back was sore by the end, but I had the pieces for my tank top ready and I also felt connected to my mom. It was also probably the longest uninterrupted time my mom and I have spent just talking in the past few years.
Then I was supposed to go home and sew it myself, but I couldn’t figure out how to work the sewing machine, at all.
So I called up Jimmy’s grandmother, Ms. Frances, for help. Ms. Frances has been sewing for at least two of my lifetimes, so I knew she could help me. However, I also know how Ms. Frances cooks. If she only has two out of the seven ingredients needed, she’ll say “No problem. We can make this.” And then substitute tortillas for dumplings and fish sticks for chicken. Some might call that tortilla soup. Ms. Frances would call it chicken-n-pastry. She makes due. And I knew she wouldn’t be worried about perfection, which was an outlook I definitely needed.
So I set out to Durham, and we got started by 11:30. We finished at 4:30. In between she showed me what a bobbin was, how to create a hem, how to thread a needle, and most importantly why and how to skip the frivolous parts of the process. She couldn’t figure out the newfangled sewing machine I’d borrowed, so we went upstairs and used her old one. It was closer to what I grew up seeing in my mother’s bedroom, so I was already feeling better about things. Ms. Frances’s mind is sharp, but her eye sight isn’t, so I was amazed by all she could do based on what she knew instinctively. Every once in a while I had to point out she was working on the neckline when we needed the arm holes, and she kept saying, “This is the blind leading the blind, child,” but we got it done, and we had a blast. She told me about things she’d made her daughters and about her mother and grandmother. By 3:30 we had to have a glass of wine to finish the final touches. As we finished up, she said, “Now some of this isn’t right, but that makes it look store bought. We’re about as good as that Made from China stuff.”
I learned a lot. I still don’t have a clue about a lot of it, though. I’ll need help on my next several projects. Like most new endeavors, I learned just how much there is to learn. But, I also loved the process. Often I get together with these two special women for a family gathering with lots of other family members; our time is limited and crowded. It is rare that our time together is just me and them and nothing rushed to do. It is rare that I simply go to them and say, Help. I don’t know and you do. In a way, my visits with them felt like summer did as a child when you have time on your hands and the elders in your life decide to “home school” you a little. It’s made me realize I don’t just want to learn to sew, I want time to learn many other things from the more experienced women in my life.