Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Art of Sewing

Both my grandmother and mother were fine seamstresses. Perfectionists when creating with fabric, every seam had to be straight; every dart even with another. Sitting at her small, black Singer sewing machine with the pedal on the floor and her tape measure around her neck and straight pins pinned to her sleeves or house dress, Giddy as we affectionately called our grandmother would mend, nip, tuck, take in, let out, patch whatever demanded her attention. Most times she never used a pattern when it came to a new project. She'd take the measurements and go from there. When she did use a pattern she'd sometimes combine two into one; taking something from each to obtain her end result. She worked quickly. But then, with six daughters and a farm, there was no time to waste.

The last thing she ever sewed for me she never had time to finish. She'd started basting pieces of fabric together that she'd cut into squares with the plan of making the child I was expecting a quilt. Instead of putting those pieces away in a drawer, I've framed them and keep them out as a reminder of this woman who created right up to her very last breath.

My mother was really the true perfectionist. She not only sewed the basics. She mastered tailored coats and jackets; suits and fine dresses. After a blood clot in her leg forced her to retire from nursing, an addition was built on to our home in the country; giving her the opportunity to open a fabric store. But it was much more than fabric. This was back when women and men wore hats. Not baseball caps but stylish hats; some with jewels and sequins; some with feathers. My mother carried a full line of hat accessories, plus jewelry, Vogue and Butterick patterns, and bolts upon bolts of cottons, wools, corduroy, linen, silk organza, felt, rayon-and if she didn't have something in stock that a customer requested she'd get it.

A couple times of year she went on buying trips to New York and a few times I was lucky enough to go along with my parents into the garment district where we'd hurry from one fabric warehouse to another. It was exhilarating; the crowded streets with racks of clothing zooming by and people shouting and flatbeds of fabric being forklifted off trucks. I think that's when I fell in love with New York City.

I'd also fallen in love with my mother's shop. On Saturdays my grandmother taught sewing. That's when I learned about inseams and back seams and darts and buttons with button holes and zippers. I learned about working with certain types of fabric; how to measure and how to do the basics. While I mastered the basics, I've never risen to the level of perfectionist.

Sometimes I'd take my homework and do it on the large,oblong table which served as the measuring and cutting table in the shop. Being surrounded by fabric and feathers and colors and designs with the smell that only those bolts of material can project made it hard to concentrate on algebra and biology. There was never anything creative to me about those subjects. They were too exact. When I did do what I had to do, the books were closed. Then I'd pull bolts of fabric out and mix and match them to my own patterns I'd create on paper by using Vogue or Butterick as my guide. I was a great designer in that fabric shop in the evenings until it was time to go to bed and back to boring algebra.

I often think about those two women and their sewing abilities. My mother ended up with a computerized sewing machine with all the bells and whistles-but she never used all the fancy options. She might have selected a different type stitch now and then but anything else could have been accomplished on that Singer model of my grandmother's. Sometimes we are given too many options. I am gratful that I was given the option of leaning how to sew or not for sewing is yet another creative outlet for those with fingers and hearts aching to create.

Whether it's a blank canvas or blank sheet of paper; a bolt of fabric or a slap of clay, it takes an artisan with his/her heart soaring to turn those raw materials into illustrations, books, paintings, designer suits and cups and bowls and vases. Sure beats numbers and formulas and strange signs that equal equasions-or something like that!

No comments:

Post a Comment