You’d think I’d like to sew seeing as how all the women in my family liked to sew AND were good at it. To my mother’s great disappointment I did not follow in their footsteps. And let me tell you – they were some impressive footsteps. My mother’s mother was legend. The woman not only sewed – she also smocked, appliqued, monogrammed, embroidered, tatted, crocheted, knitted, and hooked rugs! There was nothing this woman couldn’t do. She had five daughters and all of them inherited her love of needlework as well as some of her other skills. These women loved to sew, talk about sewing, share sewing tips, and Lord! They loved to go to fabric stores. They could spend hours there.
My dad’s mother also sewed, tatted, and quilted. Gramma loved her treadle sewing machine – she never upgraded to an electric model. Her steadfast theory was “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. She had seven daughters – all of whom sewed, although some did more than others.
I have all this love of sewing, all kinds of needlework, and accomplished women standing behind me. I also sleep under quilts made by my grandmothers, have afghans and throws made by my aunts and my mother. I have drawers full of tatted doilies, crocheted covers and tablecloths. I even have a gorgeous bedspread crocheted with tobacco twine by my great aunt. I treasure every one of these items. And I am truly impressed by such handiwork. Even so I do not like to sew nor have I ever mastered any other needlework skill. Now that’s not saying that I can’t sew. And on several occasions I have crocheted a long strand of something not worth mentioning. I can and have embroidered a few things – a couple of those projects are framed and hanging in my house as proof. But did I enjoy doing it? No. I did not. In fact, I hated every single stitch. Of course, at the time I was working furiously on each of these various projects I would have never admitted that. I was naive and thought I was supposed to enjoy it – it was a thing that women did – so what was wrong with me that I didn’t? “Shhhhh,” I’d think to myself, “just keep going.” Somehow I thought if I kept at it I’d learn to like it. That didn’t happen.
I don’t know when my mama started doing needlework as a young girl or when she first expressed an interest in it but when I had not done either by the time I was in high school Mama thought I should enroll in Home Economics. You may be surprised to know that I LOVED Home Ec class. I got to hang around all my girlfriends and talk and laugh and generally have a grand time. Our teacher, Miss Palmer, was as sweet as she could be – an old maid with no children of her own and she seemed to adopt all of us. She tolerated our immaturity, effervescence, teasing, and mischief making. We, in turn, adored her. If we were “good” all week – and somehow she always deemed that we were – she would allow us to cook during our Friday class which was always delightful fun for everyone – including Miss Palmer who tested and tasted our dishes and always proclaimed them “delicious!”
If you were paying attention you will note that I said “I LOVED Home Ec class”. Just that. The class. The sewing part? Not so much. It’s not that I couldn’t do it. I simply had no patience for it. When you are making a dress, for example, you lay out the pattern pieces on the fabric and pin each one. Then you cut out each piece and begin the task by “basting” the pieces together – which means that you use long, loose stitches in order to temporarily tack the garment together to see how it fits. You might see that it needs adjustment as you move along in the process. This involves endless trying things on. It also means getting stuck by a few pins along the way – and that unpleasant side effect only adds to my general irritation. And then, of course, there are countless hurdles that require particular precision – like putting on a waistband, making buttonholes, attaching sleeves, putting in a zipper, or lining the garment with a soft, silky material to make the wearing more comfortable. Miss Palmer required us to make a skirt, a pair of slacks, and a dress during our year of Home Ec. My skirt was a very simple woolen straight skirt with a waistband and zipper. Well, simple for most people – not for me. I was in a lather by the time the hateful thing was finally finished and my very kind teacher did most of the work since my waistband would have been a wadded mess if left to me. The zipper? Ay, yi, yi!!!! I put it in and took it out so many times that Miss Palmer took pity on me and just did it herself. But in my mind I checked that requirement off and moved on to the next item on my list.
I don’t know what I could have been thinking when I was in the Fabric Store with Mama but clearly something took hold of my good sense – or maybe my mama’s excitement was infectious – or maybe I was taken over by an alien like those characters in the movie “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”. Whatever it was I walked out of that store with a slack pattern and not one but TWO pieces of cloth to make not one but TWO pair of slacks – one was to be navy blue; the other a lovely Carolina sky blue. Clearly I had completely forgotten the skirt fiasco! Or the alien inhabiting my body LIKED to sew. Who knows? And, to boot, this fabric was a very special and expensive fabric. The world had just come out with something called “bonded wool” which meant that one side of the fabric was woolen but the other side was soft and had a satin-like sheen to it, which eliminated the need to line the otherwise scratchy fabric. As I laid out and pinned the pattern onto each piece of fabric, Mama cautioned me to be very careful. I shrugged off her concern and set about cutting. After the basting I held up each pair of slacks, eyed them and thought they looked too big for me. So with all the confidence of a seamstress with years and years of experience (or a crazed alien body snatcher) I cut each pant leg to what I deemed the right size. When my mother came in and saw that I had cut down one pair of pants and was whacking away at the second she asked me if I had tried them on. Nope. Nor had I even bothered with another round of pinning and basting. Mama nearly fainted dead away and then she announced grimly, “Linda, if you have ruined that material I’m going to…..” She didn’t even finish the sentence. She was in such a rage that she just whirled around and left the room. Would you like to venture a guess as to what happened next? Well, if you thought I had ruined those slacks – you would be wrong. By some miracle (or alien superiority) I had judged exactly right and when I had them all sewn up they fit perfectly. My mother just shook her head in amazement and declared me the luckiest girl she ever knew. And she was right. Furthermore, whatever miracle was unfolding it continued on as I managed the waistband and the zippers as if I were an experienced seamstress. Perhaps for one brief moment all the skills of my ancestors were magically bestowed on me. At the time I was full of youthful arrogance but looking back there is simply no logical explanation – unless, of course, it was the alien thing.
After that phenomenon I began the dress project. I very cleverly chose a pattern with a Raglan sleeve and a simple A-line body – a fashion trend that had no set in sleeves to deal with. I selected a dark persimmon colored wool for the fabric. My only hurdles would be the back zipper and the lining. I must have been living in some sort of supernatural glow because the whole thing came together like a dream. And I must say it earned me a lot of compliments and was one of my favorite dresses ever. Home Economics ended and I earned an A+. I never again taunted fate. That was the end of my sewing career. My mother couldn’t understand it. She reminded me now and again what a good (if not amazing) job I had done with my two pair of slacks and my dress. I was unmoved. I knew they were simply an incredibly lucky break. Besides I can honestly say that the only thing I clearly recall of the experience was how miserable I was while sitting at the sewing machine – how I hated every minute of it – how relieved I was when the projects were over. I knew I would never sew for pure enjoyment. That was not a possibility for me. I always felt a little sorry about that and more than a little sad that it was not something I could enjoy together with my mom. I can remember the hundreds of times I had seen my mother sewing together with her mother – watching them lay out patterns, cutting them out, basting, sewing by hand and on a machine. They were bonded and of one mind. It is a sweet picture in my memory but I am forever outside it. I have never shared even one tiny speck of their joy in needlework.
When it finally dawned on me that I was not required to enjoy sewing nor did I need to force myself to do any sort of needlework I felt freed to be my own woman. Only rarely do I even sew buttons on garments – even for my sweetly pleading husband. I figure he is perfectly capable. After all, he’s an Eagle Scout – he should know how to do such things. Yet I am certainly not a needless woman – rather I am a needle-less woman. And that is completely fine with me!