I grew up with a beautiful mother in beautiful houses. Postage stamp cottage, ranch, colonial, saltbox....she decorated each of them with her own two hands (and dad's hands!) by sewing curtains and pillows, painting furniture, arranging her antique finds, make-overing and making do. Nowdays, though she always loved to write, she has taken to writing short pieces (perfect for a blog!) and I asked if I could post her latest here. This will give you and idea where I get the knack for decorating, love of fabrics, writing,and quirky-ness dujoir. You'll see in the backgrounds of many of the photos her excellent taste in decorating, dining chair covers she's sewn, and her beautiful spirit. My mom is also a breast cancer survivor, and I'm soooo proud of her strength of heart, and thankful to have such a talented and loving mama in my life. Enjoy!
WRITING WHILE I SEWSewing has been a lifelong hobby for me, coming from a tradition of home sewers, from my Gramma, Onie, who was a professional seamstress, through my mother, who made my clothes with pin tucks and pinafores when I was a girl. My mother made my skirts and jackets for the Campus Cover Girl contest in college, because we couldn’t afford to buy a wardrobe for the pictures. My grandmother made a quilt that my husband and I used for 25 years, until it was getting ragged. I made it into 13 stockings for our three children 10 grandchildren. Mom was attaching the rattail streamers to the back of the wedding gown she made me in the narthex of Ressurrection Church, even as the music began. Once again, she sacrificed many nights of sleep so I could wear candlelight satin rimmed in pearls and 46 satin-covered buttons down the back, for my groom.
The visual and sensual touch of fabric and the energy that creates something of use, something beautiful, something intricate or wonderfully tailored, has been woven into the very warp and woof of the women I come from.
Writing has come out of my own desire, my love of language, my joy in observing something simple and making it matter, re-creating an experience that gives it significance and keeps it alive. My mother is an excellent writer, as are all three of my children. I only recently discovered that my maternal grand father was also a good writer. But we were not encouraged to sit around wasting time putting words to paper.
No matter, I journalled in the wee hours in my bed – still do.
Sewing and writing both speak in their own way; creating from raw material. Both bring joy and frustration in the process. Both are received and given gifts.
It’s Sunday, the weather is cooling, and I’m finally taking time in my sewing room, happily wacking away at a beautiful brown and ivory floral linen piece that will be made into a valance for my big family room window. I have it drawn out, all the figuring is completed, fabric is matched and I can see the finished product perfectly in my mind. I couldn’t be more content.
The rhythmic rasp of my Marx scissors slicing through crisp linen is like a favorite old refrain. Running my iron along freshly joined seams, just the feel of the material calms me, whether it’s slippery silk or textured homespun, or a drapy linen like this piece I’m working on. I return to this ritual again and again, always losing track of time. Sewing takes concentration and focus, but that must be the kind of therapy that works for me.
Like writing, to sew means that to sew is to re-sew. I’ve ripped out tens of thousands of stiches over the years. I’ve trashed enough material to drape a mansion or two. I’ve spent enough money on decorator fabrics to open a large shop. Yet, here I am, stitching away as though I’m a sewer, not simply a woman who sews.
I need to write about this, I muse as I interline the long valence. My lined notebook, heavily scrawled with figures and drawings, is right beside me on the sewing table, so why not jot down a few notes.
I will never be anything near a professional seamstress like my Gramma. My small motor skills wouldn’t allow it, and besides, I don’t have the patience for perfection in tailoring and I don’t sew couture, just things for home that let me shop for and touch and stitch and iron and passionately enjoy textiles. YUM !!!
Also, my Gramma’s worst word while sewing was “shite.” I won’t put in print what my worst words are when I discover I’ve joined a print upside down, or cut a piece just 3” too short, or discovered that the bobbin isn’t behaving, making a zillion loops under what looks like a perfect seam. Sometimes, when multiple catastrophes pile up, I speak these nasty words for 30 seconds or more, then go make brownies. I have fully accepted my inferior skills compared to Onie’s, or Mom’s for that matter. No matter the frustrations of my sewing history, every new project holds out the promise of a smooth no-fail operation the moment I see a fabric I simply can not resist. I trot out of Calico Corners or JoAnn’s or Hancock (bargains!) or some other addictive environment with visions of unique, hand-made home décor dancing in my head.
Speaking of fabric, which I try not to speak about around my husband because of the 6- foot high piles of it behind the furnace – future projects. Some have traveled with me for - - oh, maybe 30 years or so. Others are half-fabricated bed skirts or curtains that lost something big in the translation. There are the orange and avacado’s of the early 70’s, the flame stitch jewel tones from my colonial period in the 80’s, the red and blue checks and plaids of my Country Living phase, the black and whites of my country French infatuation, any of which may just come back around – so -- I have to keep those. Who knows when one of the kids or grandkids might need something a little retro?
Bolt end sales are to me as a polish wedding reception with free booze is to an alcoholic.
These multi-colored rejects and left-over yard-or-so pieces hold such creative ardor for me; not only are they cheap but they don’t take up much space in the pile. I pick them up with clear visions of piles of pillows and shams, sloppy ottoman covers, chair pads, a pretty little bathroom curtain – a a a h, bolt ends! However, it occurs to me as I write, I’ve never really used a bolt end for anything. I know! Someday I’ll break into that pile and make several king-sized quilts, one for each season. Just because I’ve never changed my bedroom covers for the seasons before…..
I returned to this little bit of writing after becoming quite uncomfortable as I tried to fall asleep last night. I didn’t like my math on that valance. Determined to stay in bed and not race downstairs to assure myself of the dimensions, I eventually slept, but only until around 5:30 am. It was then I remembered clearly. I was happily jotting notes about adventures in sewing. I was measuring a 140” length of fabric. I did remember cutting at the 113” mark, (no questions, I have no idea…)not only for the face fabric but for the interlining and the back. And sewing it all together nicely.
Did I say that to sew is to re-sew? The valence was, as I suspected 27” too short for the sloppy tab valance of my carefully drawn and figured plan. Time to make a batch of brownies -- writing about sewing, while sewing, was not a good idea.
I made a quick calculation of what the fabric had cost. It was not something off the rack purchased at JoAnn’s with my weekly 40%-off coupon. It was a special order; it was expensive. My stomach cranked a few turns. I may have to remind Larry, once again, of the vast savings I have achieved in making our window coverings for 44 years, and hope the notorious fabric pile doesn’t come up in that conversation.
Today was re-sew day. With a few adjustments that took me only 5 hours, the carefully chosen linen floral for the family room looks quite nice in the front bedroom. Tomorrow is a new day. After writing class I can go fabric shopping for something that will make a lovely valance for the family room.
(Now, tell me, isn't she a peach?)Edited to add: I linked up with Amy's Finer Things Friday because truly, having such a wonderful mama is one of the finest things in my life.