I sew. Or rather, I sewed. It's past tense these days because it's been taking all my energy to get my pants on the right way around in the morning and arrive at work on time.
When I was a teenager, all the girls sewed . . . it's what we did instead of changing our status on Facebook and IMing each other. We started out as seventh graders in home ec, with the classic A-line cotton jumper, of course.
I think I actually made this dress.
By the time we were in high school, we knew Butterick patterns always ran large and had graduated to the hard stuff, like buttonholes and tailoring. I made a purple panne velvet shirt with grommets and laces up the sleeves and fashioned a silk lining for my mother's old leather riding coat. By then it was the late sixties, so there was a lot of machine embroidery on unbleached muslin.
The hardest thing I ever sewed was a plaid bomber jacket. By then, I was in college, and my parents had moved to the east coast. I'd fly out for four or five days to visit at Christmas time. They'd pick me up at the airport in Hartford, and as the car got closer and closer to their house in western Mass, I could feel myself regressing. The boredom was palpable. I would sleep till noon. I'd go for long walks by the reservoir and wait around for dinner, which I’d eat in a lackluster way.
It was in this state of mind that I came across some old patterns in a box with some other things of mine my parents had in storage. One was a pattern for a bomber jacket--cropped and banded at the waist with a shirt collar and buttons down the front and on the cuffs. There was the old Singer Featherweight machine and thread . . . but no fabric. There was, however, my father's old wool Pendleton bathrobe. It still smelled of smoke, but I was desperate for something to do besides flip through the TV channels until I was tired enough to go to bed.
It was a familiar, comforting feeling, laying out the tissue pattern and pinning it on the wool--and something like doing a jigsaw puzzle upside-down and backwards to match all the plaids, especially since the bathrobe was worn thin at the elbows. The little Singer hummed companionably, just as it had when I was in the seventh grade. I might have gotten one of the sleeves in the wrong way around (hey, who hasn’t?), but if I did, it wasn't a problem to take the seam out with the scissors and put it in again right. I took pleasure in watching the jacket take shape.
Telling this story now, I realize that it has become a metaphor, part of the lore that helps to define and defend me. More than once when someone has set me a difficult task, I've laughed and then said, "Well, if I can sew a jacket out of an old Pendelton bathrobe and match all the plaids, I can certainly [fill in the blank]."
I'm not sure exactly what this story means, but I think it's about perseverence and taking what you have, however little, and making something good out of it. Some days are like that.