There’s a brown free-standing cabinet by the window in the room over the garage. At first it looks like an ordinary, yet old, dresser. But if you open the cabinet doors- it’s a sewing machine in disguise. On the inside of one door are pegs to hold about 100 spools of thread, and on the other door, nifty little compartments to hold things like scissors, pincushions, etc.
Let me just preface the rest of my story by saying that in no way am I an experienced seamstress. In fact, I hesitate to even use that word, seamstress, because it implies a level of knowledge and skill I can only dream about. If I did dream about that sort of thing. Which I don’t. I have no aspirations or expectation in this field, but I don’t think I can coin the word “sew-er” to describe my skill level either. (Am I allowed to just make that up?) Well, maybe without the hyphen, I could.
I learned the basics of hand stitching when I was a kid at my Gram’s house (my dad’s mom). My cousin Tabi and I would pore over her box of fabric scraps and sew together patchwork blankets for our dolls. I learned how to thread a needle, knot the thread, and tie it off. I knew how to do a basting stitch and an overcast stitch.
But, I’ll be honest with you here, I just had to look up those terms. Because the “back-and-forth” stitch and “the one where you go over and over” (picture hand motions here) would probably not lend me any credibility.
At some point, I also learned to sew on a button, which, believe it or not, is probably one of the handiest skills I’ve ever learned. Second only to typing without looking at the keys.
When I was very young, my mom used to sew a lot of my clothes- like, from actual patterns you buy at the fabric store! She made me cute little jumpers for Christmas with designs on the pockets, and some “play clothes” (when there used to be such a distinction in our house). I never learned to use her sewing machine, though.
My Grammy (mom’s mom) used to sew a lot. She made bathrobes and “housecoats” as she used to call them. She would change out a zipper or buttons on something she owned if she didn’t like it. It’s her sewing machine I have in my house now. As well as two large boxes of sewing “stuff” that my Uncle Tim said went along with it.
I laughed out loud when I went through that stuff. My grandmother saved everything, and the contents of those boxes were evidence of that. There’s an old cigar box filled with loose buttons- but the matching sets are tied together with thread. A genius idea I should employ. There are needles in original packaging. One pack has three needles, labeled “braiding,” “tufting,” and “candlestick.” (I did not look these up, therefore have no idea what they mean.) A shoebox contains lace edging and binding, some unopened, and some I recognize from outfits I wore as a toddler. Velcro, elastic, marking chalk, and probably about 137 spools of thread in every color of the rainbow. Except orange.
I can’t begin to identify all the sewing notions she saved, but I can appreciate how organized it all is. She even saved the original cancelled check she used to pay for the machine, dated January 3, 1978 (not very helpful, but interesting just the same), and the original Operator’s Manual (extremely helpful).
I like having this sewing machine of Grammy’s, it was something she loved and used a lot. And all the stuff she saved? She bought it, touched it, went through it, thought about it. It’s like having tangible memories. Look- I just coined a phrase for clutter.
This is a back-to-basics sewing machine. No computer screen, no downloading apps. Just a foot pedal and a plug. The simpler, the better for me.
I wish I could say that this inspired a desire to learn the fine art of sewing. Alas, no. My thirteen year old has used it the most probably. And the most complicated thing this machine has done was to sew a hem on some curtains I wanted to shorten. And maybe some throw pillows. Straight lines. All of them.
I am intrigued with the idea of learning how to sew. But I usually only sew when circumstances cannot be avoided and I don’t feel like paying someone else to do it. Like when one of my girls brought home a dance costume with unhemmed pants. Or when they got their pointe shoes. God Bless the inventor of YouTube. I learned how to hem pants, and sew ribbons and elastics on pointe shoes. I’m not really creating anything, it’s more like I’m just fixing things. Which is a good skill.
Although years ago, I did make a “Sally” dress from “The Nightmare Before Christmas” for a Halloween costume. But as complicated as it may sound, I can’t take that much credit. I basically sewed a front and a back together for a sleeveless jumper dress (no zippers, or elastics or complex button holes) that pretty much assured only a slim six year-old will ever fit into it. The rest was fabric glue and fabric paint. It did come out pretty good though.
I will never be an accomplished person-who-sews-things, and I’m okay with that. (SNL buffs cue “Stuart Smalley” here) But every time I sit down at that sewing machine, I think of Grammy. And that’s the best part.