My mother enjoyed sewing. I fondly remember garments that she sewed for me as a child, some quite amusing ones that got me teased by other kids, but which were made with pride and love. Mostly my mom was a business woman, a working mom, but she did enjoy this art. I was always fascinated with the bobbins, the needles, her pin cushion and all of the fabrics, buttons, and ribbons she kept. I loved opening her sewing table to see the endless little bits of magic that could become something useful and beautiful.
Mom made a few outfits and skirts for me, which was always exciting because she would let me pick patterns and fabrics. I wanted to be as stylish as the carefully drawn women on the paper envelopes. It didn’t happen often but it was always special when she and I had a sewing project. For my part, I would stand still so that she could pin hems, or the seams along my sides to fit me, and that always made me nervous! I was so afraid of being pricked!
On one occasion she allowed me to use fabric from a floral print sack that she had preserved for decades when sacks of flour or feed came in printed fabrics. She kept that fabric pressed and folded in a cedar chest she received for her high school graduation. I know she treasured it; and it was wonderful bright cotton that I had always admired.
With that fabric I made a way-too-short mini skirt. She showed me a simple way to sew in the elastic waistband and how to measure the hem. I used her sewing machine for the first and only time, and I bent the needle and might have broken an essential part, too. That was my last attempt at sewing on her machine. I had the figure back then to wear the skirt, but the one time I wore it in public I had the most difficult time because I had no idea how to wear it modestly!
My mother could sew a button like nobody’s business. She made that button so tight in place!! She enjoyed sewing by hand mainly, and had also hand-stitched a few handkerchiefs, embroidering them with sweet, simple flowers. Maybe my daughter and my niece, Morgan, might like to have these treasures, which I believe are in Mom’s cedar chest. Mom always wanted me to take Home Economics in high school, but by the time I would have been able to take that elective, I had become pregnant, quit to get my G.E.D. and moved on to college.
What calls all of this to mind is that even as an adult, even as my mother imparted a few basic lessons in sewing to me, I was still going to her to mend clothing or even sew buttons for me. It was kind of a joke between us but she liked the practice and it gave her something creative to do. She enjoyed it and she knew I was off attending to all sorts of things and would not have stopped, or had time and patience, to do it myself.
Just before my mother passed away, I had two garments that needed sewing: a brand new skirt that was poorly made that had an open seam that I didn’t notice when I bought it and a blouse that had opened a bit on a seam because it fit a little too snug for me. Until my mother’s passing, I did not even have needle or thread in my house.
My mother’s sewing can is so remarkably familiar to us. When we brought things to her to hem up or stitch back together, or add elastic to because our waists were getting thicker, she would always say, while sitting in her recliner: “Go get my sewing can.” A day or two after she died, I asked my brother, Kevin, if I could have Mom’s sewing can. I told him my tale of woe that I did not have needle and thread in the house and our funny history with mom doing our mending. He said sure, I could have it. What a miracle that can is! I am almost afraid to open it, because of all that will come to me of her, but I will.
(On a side note, I think our family should also go through all of the buttons she preserved over the years. They are kept in my old bedroom which became her sewing room/toy room for all the grandchildren).
So, tonight in this quiet hour, I have the sewing can on my sofa and a small lamp turned on. In peace and solemnity I will mend my blouse and think of my mother and her deft and skilled hand-sewing that she was so proud of. I will wear that cheaply-made blouse later today when my daughter and I meet friends for coffee (which really is a very important meeting) and into the evening when she and I go to a poetry event with friends (also very important) in Breaux Bridge, Louisiana.
In a way, I will not only be mending the Made in China blouse, but also mending a part of my being which is, too, opened at the seams.
Clare L. Martin