Tuesday, August 27, 2013

The Utility Room

Our lives this past year haven’t been easy.  Mihiretu had a terrible time in kindergarten at the public school, ergo Mae and Lana had a terrible time at said school.  Your brother throwing himself to the black-top in screaming terror during an all-school fire drill isn’t a recipe for social success it turns out.  Therapy all the way around.

This year we find ourselves in three different schools.  Mae started at the public middle school last week.  Lana found a safe spot among some key friends at a small private school in Fairfax.  And Mihiretu is at a Steiner-inspired school in Sausalito; calming colors, no bells.  While this has proved to be logistically difficult (three kids, three start times, three end times, with miles between them), they seem infinitely happier.  They each have space to be themselves in an environment that suits them.

I started a business in June.  A bit counterintuitive, I realize.  Three young kids, one of whom has suffered trauma, therapy appointments to coordinate.  But I’m finding this work is giving me a little space of my own.

I have always sewn.  I come from a long line of seamstresses.  My maternal grandmother emigrated from Romania to support her family as a seamstress in the New World.  She ended up having three children in quick succession and succumbing to depression and pneumonia in short order but no matter.  She sewed.  My mother sewed.  I sew.

I make quilts, I make clothes.  Most recently, I’ve gotten into upcycling.  I find old cashmere sweaters at Goodwill, haggle with the cashiers (“There’s a hole here under the arm and it’s quite pilly?  Could you come down from $12?”) and bring the buggers home to wash them, felt them, cut them up and make something new.  Blankets, scarves, hats, sweater-coats.  I find vintage quilt-tops at flea markets.  These are the pieced together beginnings, not yet a blanket, abandoned as much as a century ago.  I clean them up, mend them, then finish the job some long ago granny started.  I layer the top with batting and a back and hand-quilt it.  A labor of love – it takes forever – but I adore it.  I carry a basket with me everywhere and pull out the current quilt to work on at odd moments – playdates, school pick-ups, wherever.  I make messenger bags out of vintage European grain sacks, little girl dresses out of used men’s t-shirts, dog bowl stands out of old wooden fruit crates, summer dresses out of antique German nightdresses.

In May, a store opened in Fairfax, our little town.  It’s called The Garage and it’s a design collective.  Housed in an old Volkswagen repair shop (hence the name), it’s a mélange of different work; handmade jewelry, handcrafted leatherwork, vintage finds salvaged and repaired, on and on.  And now, in the midst of this loveliness, is The Utility Room.  That’d be me.  I work behind the counter a few hours a week but mostly my work is finding and making.  I’m busier than I’ve probably ever been – a typical evening might find me simultaneously packing school lunches, ironing a t-shirt dress and rewiring an old rotary phone for resale.  I’m busy but I’m happy.  The kid’s world changed for the better and so did mine.

I think a lot about Virginia Woolf’s idea of having a room of one’s own.  I don’t actually have that.  I have a high counter the length of my living-room that’s home to my sewing machine, my serger, my computer, my cashmere, my quilt-tops.  I don’t have a physical room but suddenly I have mental room, I have the Utility Room.  I have a thing that’s just mine.  I’m not just the support staff for Ben and the kids.  I love being a mother.  I love it more than anything.  But I also love having work that’s my own.

I got my first paycheck recently since my last acting check in 1999.  I used some of it to buy shop-girl shoes, a pair of bright blue clogs.  Work shoes.  Because, between drop-offs and pick-ups, between Trader Joe’s and laundry, between making beds and making dinner, there’s a little slice of time that’s mine, that’s work. 


  1. beautifully put Liz, and been a pleh-szah to witness in real life too! Oh dear my sign off is really weird, its Lisa here.

  2. That sounds like a wonderful (albeit hectic) balance in life for you, Liz. I could feel your pleasure oozing through the words. I'm so happy for you.

    My face was all smiles when I saw you'd written something here...you've helped me carve out my own little piece of time, just reading about yours!


  3. Love reading this Liz. We have so much in common. Wanted to share this with you: