My mother’s mother, whom we called Nana, could sew anything. She sewed curtains that could hang in a mansion and wedding dresses that were a dream. Nana sewed winter coats and summer dresses and everything in between. My brother, who was 23 years older than I, also sewed. He is the father of five sons and sewed all the maternity clothes for my sister-in-law. He could sew tiny little baby shirts and itty bitty pants. Nana and Larry were so gifted at sewing. Then there’s me.
I have tried sewing several times in my now long life. The first attempt was when I was about 12 years old. My Aunt Millie took me to her basement where she had her sewing room. I was captivated. She prepared and turned on the sewing machine explaining as she went. She deftly began to slide the material through. Then suddenly she stopped. She had run the needle right through the nail of her index finger and there it stayed. I screamed for my uncle then, like a true coward, I ran all the way home. It was only eight houses but it seemed to take forever. I promptly scared the heck out of my mother with my garbled tale of huge needles and gallons of blood. In the aftermath, when everyone was home and details were sorted out I was told it wasn’t a big thing (uh huh) and I vowed never to get near one of those dangerous machines again.
Then I started high school. I don’t know how things are now but when I was young, girls in high school took Home Economics and boys were herded into Woodshop or Mechanics. This was not an option. If you were a girl, you were going to learn to cook and sew even if it killed you and everyone around you.
Thank goodness my foray into Home Ec was not something I had to face alone. My best friend, Sue, was there by my side. She is the reason I survived the kitchen and the sewing room at school. But I did not come out of the experience unscathed. Since those harrowing days I have learned to cook and bake and I really love both. Sewing, however…
In my late thirties, what I called my twenty-tens, I tried sewing again. I got a really nice sewing machine capable of things I believed must be possible because the machine was magical. It could make button holes the exact size needed. It cut a little slit then miraculously stitched around the slit so it didn’t fray!
I was absolutely certain I’d be able to join the sisterhood (and brotherhood) of sewers.
I was wrong. In spite of reading the manual for the sewing machine as though it had been delivered by angels and in spite of poring over the pattern for the shorts I wanted to sew, things did not go well. I wanted to blame the machine but I remembered the bobbin of the sewing machine in high school and how it looked as it levitated itself off the little stick and rolled out the door, across the hall, and into the classroom on the other side. Repeatedly. I remembered the nun who taught Home Ec calling me Rachel; a cruel reference to the sewing disabled character in “The Trouble with Angels.” So, I put the cover on the sewing machine and it found a home several towns to the east.
And now, as I’m in what are supposed to be my restful, golden years, I find that I really need to learn to sew. This means I need a sewing machine and iron-clad protection for my fingers. I’m terrified but there’s no choice. Most of my clothing needs to be mended. My husband’s clothing needs to be adjusted due to his weight loss. I have to sew.
I’m going in. I’ll report as I make my way through mending shorts and figuring out what that metal pizza-cutter looking thing does. And, if I don’t make it out alive, know that I’m doing it for everyone out there who lives in fear of bobbins and patterns.