A Stitch in Time
By Susan DeBow
It’s happening again. I placed a piece of red, blue and green plaid on top of a floral print on a white background. That’s when my mother said, “Susie, plaids and florals don’t go together.”
I shrugged my shoulders, snickered and continued unfolding and folding my stash of fabric that I have collected the last ten years. Behind my sewing machine are shelves so laden with fabric they look as though they are weeping. Those are the shelves of fabric that were my mother’s. Calicos sorted by color and pattern, linings that I would never use because they are so slick they would slide wildly beneath my presser foot.
On January 2, 2009, my mother will be gone a dozen years. My sewing room is the one room in the house where her voice still comes in loud and clear. Whenever I use one of her quilting squares as a straight edge, she tells me to measure twice, cut once, just like a carpenter. I cut my fabric out on a large mat that was hers. The only difference is that now it warbles a bit due to my trying to iron a piece of a garment on it without putting a towel between the fabric and the mat. I don’t hear her voice at that point, I just see her face, twitched and bewildered by her daughter’s, shall we say, stupidity?
Growing up I resented my mother’s sewing. She made most of my clothes and instead of blending in, I stood out. It didn’t help that I was about a foot taller than most everyone, including teachers. Whereas other girls might wear a plain navy blue jumper, I would have on a navy blue jumper with doo-dads adorning it. They were a bit too clever for my taste. All I wanted was to be able to go to the store and buy something plain.
Mother’s sewing was one way to save money, although that wasn’t her primary goal. I didn’t recognize it then, but that was her creative outlet. Of course, I wouldn’t have known what someone was talking about if they had uttered the term, “creative outlet.”
Once, when my mother made all of the bridesmaid’s dresses for my sister’s wedding, I remember standing in the senior’s classroom at the church, where we all put on our dresses. I looked really hot with peroxide streaked hair, poofed just so, arms and face beautifully tanned, looking like I had just stepped out of the pages of Seventeen magazine. Five minutes before we were to walk down the aisle, I lifted my arms up high and R-I-P – both sleeves came undone. Mother had basted but not sewn the sleeves in place. I couldn’t move my arms away from my body all night.
When I got married, and mother made my wedding dress, the first thing I did was check the sleeves.
Although I wasn’t as fond of the homemade garments as I should have been, I loved coming home from school and hearing the rumble of the sewing machine. That meant it was Tuesday, mother’s day off, and she was home, and there was probably a cake she had baked on the table.
Throughout the years, I have toyed with my sewing machine. Perhaps I have been waiting for that perfect machine, the kind that cuts out the pattern, places and pins it on the fabric, cuts out the garment and sews it on its own. This is because for most of my life, the process has gotten in the way of getting there.
Adrenaline and time have fought with the process and journey. Mindfulness was the last thing on my mind. Christmas stockings? Done in a flash. Stuffed animals? In two snaps of a garter belt. An apron? Before you could say snickerdoodle.
But there was never joy in my sewing. The machine hummed but I didn’t. And I hum when I’m happy. I saw sewing as a grit-your-teeth and get-er-done type thing.
After mother died I didn’t have a difficult time getting rid of her furnishings, silver or china. What brought me to my knees was looking through her boxes of fabric…her stash. She had little notes to herself pinned in place. Everything was folded perfectly. She had enough fabric to sew on for a hundred years.
When she was fighting leukemia, I’d stop by her house and ask dad where mom was, as if I didn’t know. “She’s downstairs, sewing,” he’d say.
I would walk down the basement steps and look to the right to see my bald-headed mom sitting at her sewing machine, accompanied by the sound of the best instrument she ever played – the sewing machine.
While clearing out the things from mom’s house, I found a couple of unfinished purses and a Christmas quilt she was working on. I never used the purses, because at the time I thought they were hokey.
That’s just the feeling I think my daughters have when I now show them the purses I have been making. I think they want to pat me on my head and say, “That’s nice mother, now go play.”
This morning I actually wore a top that I made last week. Mother would have been proud. Instead of racing through the project, I was mindful. I pinned and basted and ironed and…hummed.
It’s a pretty plain top, oh, except for the doo-dads I have on it. Twelve buttons that I thought would give it a bit of style.
Oh my word, I’m turning into my mom.
And frankly, there’s no one else I would rather turn into.
About this writer
- Susan DeBow is a Midwest writer with a Southern heart. Her work has been published in the Chicago Tribune, Family Circle, Christian Science Monitor, Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Writer, Poets and Writers, among many others. Her first novel, Cleaning Closets, was published in 2007 by Dialogue Publishing.