Sunday, May 13, 2012

Sewing Memories

I haven't used a sewing machine in probably thirty years and this particular sewing machine hasn't seen the light of day in at least forty. I used to make most of my clothes, relishing patterns and fabrics, choosing from the spectrum of threads and the delight of notions. Lace bindings used to give me a little thrill of pleasure, just knowing that if my hem flipped up, someone might notice that little touch. It seems frivolous, looking back, but it's who I was back then.

My mother started me and my sister on a "clothing allowance" when we turned sixteen; it was enough to cover our needs, as long as we made some of our clothes. My sister figured out how to shop the sales and be super thrifty, rather than learn to sew. I resisted learning for several years, too, but it was a nice sense of accomplishment when I finally learned how and made my own finished garments. 

It's actually cheaper to buy clothes these days than to make them. And once I was working full time, there never seemed to be enough time. So, little by little, I stopped sewing.

Last weekend, I bought a couple of nice feather pillows at a garage sale. The covers were stained, so I thought to replace them with good, old fashioned pillow ticking. I went to the fabric store and was promptly swamped with memories of all the time I have spent in similar stores. These days, it's a kinder, gentler place, as the sizing that used to sting my eyes has been eliminated. It's still a kaleidoscope of color and pattern, stripe and dot. It's still an amazing place to experience textures, from the softest velvets and airiest laces to slinky satins and sturdy cottons. I found my pillow ticking behind the farthest shelf and brought it to the measuring counter in triumph. 

Back at home, I wondered belatedly if my mother's sewing machine even worked after all the idle years. I had taken it after she and my Dad passed away, not really needing a sewing machine but unable to leave it when it was so closely associated with her.  She taught me the rudiments of sewing on that machine and my friend Sue Evans took over when Mom threw up her hands in frustration. I was not an easy pupil.

I took the machine out of its sturdy wooden box with the shredding faux leather covering and set it up on the dining room table. I rummaged around for an extension cord, plugged it in and, with trepidation, flipped the little switch to turn on the light. Bright yellow flooded the work surface - it still worked!  

So, I threaded it, the exact path of the thread returning to memory as if I had done it just yesterday rather than thirty years ago. Across from the spool to the little hook, down around the tension adjuster, up and through the stitch threader, down again and around behind, then through the needle (that's harder these days - I had to adjust my glasses), and pull it free. I checked the bobbin, my fingers automatically pulling out the tiny handle to clip it back in. Dip the needle down once to catch the bobbin thread and position the fabric, lower the presser foot to hold it in place.

The treadle has a single button just the size of my big toe. I have always sewn barefooted (I learned in Hawaii), and my toe found the button like a homing pigeon. Pushed down experimentally and, lo and behold, the needle plunged down to pierce the fabric!  No oiling, no adjusting, no fuss - just neat and willing little stitches lining up one by one across the fabric.  It may be silly, but I got a little verklempt at this sweet little machine.

My Beloved and I stepped outside to transfer the feathers carefully from the old cover to the sturdy new one, a good precaution as we lost a few. Maybe some bird will weave them into its nest; I was feeling so nostalgic that that seemed like the perfect use for the fugitives.

My guest room now has two soft new pillows to complement the firm, polyester fiber-filled ones. My guests can choose firm or soft, hypoallergenic fuzz or cosy feathers. I have a little glow of accomplishment and renewed memories of sewing with my Mom and my good friend Sue. 


Blogger Buzz Baylis said...

What fun to relive the memory of picturing a very similar looking machine on my childhood home dining room table as I turned the corner into our dining room while you were working on this project. XX00XX, Your Beloved

Monday, May 14, 2012  
Blogger cookiecrumb said...

I love to sew, though it's been ages. I'm stunned that your old Singer fired up without a peep.

Monday, May 14, 2012  
Blogger Hungry Dog said...

I love this post! You are such good writer...I almost felt as though I was experiencing your nostalgia.

Congrats on your new pillows.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012  
Anonymous Katie said...

I learned on a sewing machine like that, too - and always made my own clothes - and yes, I remember the eyes stinging in the fabric stores. I also remember that I could make a new skirt to go out in in under an hour with 1/2 yards of fabric.... those were the days. Great post - brought back lots of memories.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Buzz, thanks for visiting the blog. What fun that your Mom had one, too.

Cookiecrumb, I was surprised, too, and delighted. Old stuff always seems to work better than new stuff.

Hungry Dog, gee, thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it.

Katie, I always needed more yardage than that but, like you, could whip out a skirt in very little time, and for very little money. You must have been sewing in the miniskirt era. :-) I once made a dress so sort, I had trouble sitting down without showing my unmentionables. The next one was a bit longer.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012  

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