Sunday, August 15, 2010


I'm big into sewing. I come by it honestly, it seems. My sister, twelve years older than I, sewed when I was a kid. My mother, I hear, sewed once upon a time. After I was born the sewing came to a stop - too busy with her three kids, most likely. And her mother, the mysterious and long-dead Valeria, was, we're told, a seamstress in her native Romania.

I didn't sew much as a kid, actually. Made a few tiny, malformed, purple pillows on the machine, but that was pretty much the limit of my abilities. I watched my sister, though, and I think I must have picked up something by osmosis. When I was twenty-five, suddenly, in the middle of a career crisis, I started quilting, without a class, without a book, just made up my own method. The ladies at the quilt store literally laughed me out the door when I brought my first one in to get some advice on batting. Sour old bats. I somehow refined my process and got to the point of turning out a consistently well-made and, to my mind, beautiful, modern product. For years, that was what I stuck with but then, like the rest of America, I started watching "Project Runway", the show that has single-handedly brought back the almost-lost art of sewing.

I started with A-line dresses for the girls. Two pieces of fabric - no zippers, no buttons. Then slowly I graduated to simple skirts for me. The sudden freedom to make exactly what I wanted to wear instead of searching for it endlessly and fruitlessly in retail stores was bewitching. I now make shirts and dresses, even jeans. I can think of no better scenario than laying fabric out on the dining table to cut for a new project, "This American Life" playing on the radio, the kids off with Ben - somewhere - anywhere. It's so satisfying that when I contemplated moving to San Jose a year ago, I thought, well, if I can bring my sewing machine, I'll probably be okay. That, it turns out, was a bit of a blinkered view. My happiness, though greatly enhanced by sewing, is not completed by it. Shocking.

No surprise but the girls, Mae especially, have taken a great interest. Mae's consolation prize for being uprooted to San Jose was a pint-sized sewing machine. Last week, she did a sewing camp. Six eight-year-olds, six sewing machine, one very patient teacher and twenty hours to make some magic. Mae returned each day with a finished project - among them, an artfully deconstructed t-shirt, a tie-dyed skirt and, the very best, a sundress. I was bowled over with her blossoming ability. She'd come home from camp and immediately return to the machine, pulling out material from the fabric bins, sewing capes on Lana's t-shirts.

The girls and I are now designing their fall wardrobe. I have a vision of Mae and I side by side on dueling machines, NPR humming in the background, chatting occasionally, deeply content. She's certain to be, if not the best, the most creatively-dressed little lady in her third grade class. That's my girl.

1 comment:

  1. OK, so here's an area where we definitely differ! I hate sewing and can't do it as a result. When I was a girl, my mother forced me to go to sewing lessons and I made about three outfits, and the second I was no longer forced to go to lessons, I made a beeline out of there! My sister's very much a sewer, and great for her (and you!), but I'm so not interested.

    But my hat's off to you. I admire women who can do what I can't, and I definitely have great admiration for someone who can sew!