My mother was a sewer. A true sewer. Who made all our clothes growing up (before we got “too cool” for hand-sewn clothes.) Play clothes when we were young, formal dresses for Christmas, cotillions, and proms. A true sewer who used paper patterns as her sole source of information and her instincts to guide her thru even the most difficult pattern. There was no internet to reference when she got stuck or a sewing store down the block to rush over to with questions. She just had to figure it out by herself. And she did. And made amazing clothes for us in the process.
I didn’t start sewing in earnest until after my mom passed. I had always intended to learn – I had bought a cheap-o machine at Sears and my mom had helped me figure out how to use it. She showed me how to read a pattern, pick out appropriate fabrics, etc. But it wasn’t until after she passed that I really sat down to my machine and started sewing. Its funny, because I spent so much of my childhood surrounded by all things sewing – the sewing store picking out patterns with my mom, shopping for cheap fabric wherever she could find it, pushing her fabric off the dining room table so I could do my homework while she sewed… but I just hadn’t dove into sewing with any sort of gusto.
And after she passed, it just made sense. Me sitting at the machine, struggling my way thru my own patterns, cursing myself for not having picked it up earlier when I could have called my mom for help with those friggin invisible zippers. Sounds a little quirky, but every time I figured out a difficult part of a pattern, I realized how my mom must have felt. And it was sort of my way of channeling her thru sewing.
But I suppose it was more than that. For me, sewing is very focused. Very un-like knitting (which I can do anywhere, with any distraction, at any time.) Sewing requires total focus for me. And its an escape for me, in ways. A way of losing myself in a project. The whole process: the pattern and fabric choice, cutting out the pattern pieces, ironing my fabric and cutting it out, piecing the pattern together and in a few short hours (if I’m lucky), I’ve got my finished project. But its more about the process for me – the joy I have in being totally engrossed in a project. My own little therapy – all for the bargain price of a paper pattern and a few yards of fabric. A way for me to both channel my mom and also be so focused on a project that I had a break from the sadness that at times, threatened to envelop me. For those first few months, when I was slogging thru the worst moments of my grief, I had some relief for a few hours. The focus on the pattern, on the process, that sewing provided me was my own form of therapy. Yes, I have the moments when I know I must FEEL my grief and sit with it before I can move thru it… But honestly, when the grief is so raw, there are times you just need a distraction – a break from the sadness. And I suppose thats what sewing did for me – gave me a bit of a break from the grief that was a whole lot healthier than downing a bottle of merlot or a carton of Haagen-Dazs (not that I didn’t do plenty of that at the time.)
After she passed, a friend returned a precious dress that my mom had sewn a few years earlier. And it made me cry in the most beautiful way. I don’t have many items that she sewed so having this dress back made me unbelievably happy. And admittedly, even happier when I looked at the zipper she had installed and saw that it was sewn in uneven and crooked – exactly the same way I do it. Yes, she was an amazing sewer, but even she had little snafus in her projects – and those snafus linked us, in my mind. And reminded me that yes, my mother was a true sewer. And being a true sewer does not mean sewing with technical perfection. She sewed everything perfectly with love and pride. Crooked zippers and all.
My sister, brother and I all sporting our 1970’s hand-sewn fashion… My sister’s pink drawstring pants with the massive pockets = our childhood uniform. In every color of the rainbow. Because what my mom lacked for in her pattern diversification, she made up for in the bulk amount of that one pattern that she’d make.