Why I sew

SOMETHING happens when I sew. I don't mean the dress that's made or the pattern that's pinned, or the collar that's curved. What I'm talking about is more than the 21/2 yards of black crepe that I can turn into a long skirt with pleated, draped front and slit back to wear at the theater, a New Year's Eve party, or a friend's wedding. These are only the external miracles of taking a straight piece of goods and giving it shape, style, space to fit you or someone you love. When I sew, more things happen to me than to the fabric. Sewing soothes my soul.

But I don't sew seeking such results. I sew because my oldest daughter wants a skirt for next month's concert. Another daughter needs a play costume by tomorrow. My youngest could use a warm robe for winter. My son ripped the knees on his jeans, again.

I sew to save money and, very often, time. Quicker than I can shop for the right color, style, and fit, I can cut and put together a pair of casual pants from my own stock of material built up over the years in a cardboard box. All without leaving the house, disturbing my five-year-old's play, or turning off the roast in the oven for tonight's dinner.

You might think I grew up with sewing. But I did not sit playing with the scraps that fell from the lap of an old-fashioned mother at the machine, turning the wheel by hand. That was more my fantasy, gleaned from too many books about old-fashioned girls. But this scene, which would not come to life for me as a child no matter how hard I wished it, I made real for my own children. They have learned numbers by counting buttons; sizes, shapes, and colors by sorting them; ABC's by touching the letters that label pattern pieces.

Growing up, I always wore assembly line dresses from the store rather than originals from home.

Now, it's just the opposite. Each dress, each skirt, each coat or jacket in my closet has a history. I can tell you where the material was bought, the pattern too, the year, date, and month it was made, the reason for making it. Short of the weaver, man or machine, I can give you all its roots.

I've developed such a regard for the craft that it has elevated my respect for the crafter. My mother-in-law was quite a person. I discovered she made her own clothes, draperies, curtains, and bedspreads. She could make almost anything out of fabric. As soon as I became pregnant with my first child, I asked if she could show me how to sew.

And in a mother's humble way, she showed me how simple sewing is. First you learn to thread the machine. . . .

My mother-in-law's attitude that anyone can sew if he or she wants to gave me the confidence to know success could be the only outcome.

So I sew. I've made dresses, skirts, tops, pants, coats, slips, shirts, jackets, pajamas, nightgowns, hats. I've made draperies, curtains, tablecloths, slipcovers, flannel sheets, decorator pillows, and computer covers. Occasionally, I've sewn things for gifts.

Each time I touch a piece of fabric, magic occurs. I see not double-knit, corduroy, or cotton but a dress, a shirt, priscilla curtains with tiebacks. Each time I sit on my chair facing the sewing machine, I disappear. I've gone into my hands. Hands feed material toward the needle. A foot presses on the pedal, fabric, foot, and needle join hands to perform one function. In the process, they become one, and, as in a chemical reaction, a totally different thing emerges. Not just a dress or curtain, but a new me.

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