Essential Elements: Sewing is not for me

Editor’s note: This column features a different guest writer each month who writes about comical musings, quirky happenings and other essential elements of getting through this thing called life. Care to share? Email your column ideas to Lynn Monty.

A friend wrote a nostalgic piece about her mother’s sewing. Her story gave me pause. Why does the idea of a sewing machine and the words bobbins, needles, thread, pattern books and flimsy tissue make my stomach clench? The inevitable question occurs: Was it nature or nurture that shaped me into a non-seamstress?

I admit to being able to replace a missing button and even stitching a ragged hem every now and again. I’ve also been known to tidy a hem with masking tape, but just as often I put the offending clothing in the Goodwill bag.

It is no surprise that my younger sister, Nancy, was born with a needle and thread in her fingers. Mother made our dresses when we were little girls. She told us she made the first dress for me and then learned as she went along. That is why one Easter I had a navy-blue dotted Swiss dress with puffy sleeves, while Nancy’s sleeves were simple caps. Mother confessed that the puffy sleeves were very difficult and so Nancy had to be content with the plainer version. Mother’s creativity and her diligence (“Follow the directions, Sandra!”) enabled her to be a competent seamstress.

Nancy shared Mother’s diligence. She made doll clothes for both our Muffy dolls while I sat on the couch reading The Five Little Peppers. Using leftover rickrack from one of Mother’s projects, Nancy sewed rickrack on our doll’s dresses while I rolled my eyes. She talked of finished seams, bias cuts and darts while I devoured the Bobbsey Twins and then went on to Little Women, The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables.

She pleaded with our mother for the latest McCall’s flared skirt pattern and was eager to linger over wool plaids and cotton polka dots and ginghams before making her choice for the skirt she wanted. My thrifty mother reminded me that I could have more clothes if I would only learn to sew like Nancy. I remained uninterested and was happy with my plain gray wool jumper and white blouse.

One day Mother and Nancy attempted to teach me to sew. I sat in front of the Singer while the two of them hovered over me. My task was to simply sew a straight seam on a piece of leftover cotton. They made me start with the basics of threading the needle and inserting the bobbin. Once that was accomplished, I put my foot on the treadle as if I were starting a car, and the needle leapt down the fabric while I grabbed the cotton to keep it straight. Mother and Nancy were shouting, “Slow down. Guide the fabric with your hands.” A scrunched-up ball of cotton with a crooked seam was the result of my attempt. Nancy and Mother laughed with affection and told me I would improve, but my heart wasn’t in sewing.

Then in 1972 I was a new wife trying to fix up our first home, which was a first floor apartment of an old house on Ocean Drive in Newport, Rhode Island. The south wall was one large window that demanded curtains for privacy as well as to filter the sunlight. Full of love and with hope to be the homemaker wife that I knew my mother was, we bought a sewing machine. Then we bought yards of green, gold and orange floral print fabric (this was 1972, remember?).

In 1960, I hadn’t had success sewing a seam with a 12-inch piece of cotton. Just imagine my challenge of hemming and folding heavy cotton. My new husband and I learned about each other through that curtain-making experience. We learned he has the patience, the dexterity and the precision to wrestle with a sewing machine. We both realized that I am the woman with the big ideas, the dreamy plans, but
I just wasn’t ever interested in sewing. Pretending to be interested if only to please others’ expectations of what a 1960s young wife should do, was not me.

Rick finished our curtains and now stitches his own buttons, hems his own pants and even mends sails with dental floss. The sewing machine sold in a yard sale, but our marriage has continued for forty-five years.