This Valentine Day’s weekend was a time to remember Mom. My memories were triggered by the sound of sewing shears cutting through fabric on the dining room table. I was cutting out pieces for a meditation cushion, using a fabric remnant from curtains Mom made us years ago.
Remembering Mom’s Craft Skills
My mother was a remarkably talented seamstress and tailor. She loved the challenge of visualizing and then executing complex sewing patterns, such as the French couturier designers’ patterns that she would buy from Vogue. Her friends admired her fashion flair and skill at creating multi piece outfits, like the suit shown here.
Looking back, it’s hard to believe that she made me a Christian Dior suit with a cape, as my back-to-school outfit for second grade. Except for its yellow satin lining, the suit was very austere — completely inappropriate for schoolyard play — and probably too severe for a child to wear to church. I had no fashion sense, but learned to adore the way the cape could soar like a bird’s wing or Superman’s cloak. I’d pump the swings as high as they could go, or jump down from tree branches, just to make the cape billow and flash its bright yellow lining.
Unlike the other moms we knew, our mother sewed professionally while raising six children. People would come to our house so she could tailor their suits (she didn’t have her own car). Shortly after giving birth to her seventh child, Mom re-entered the workforce and became a banking professional. From then on her sewing downshifted to a serious hobby, reserved for special occasion outfits.
Our childhood memories are steeped in images of her sewing, the sounds of the machine and the shears slicing through layers of fabric. She may not have interacted with us as much as we would have liked, but we understood how dedicated she was to her craft. She was passionate about sewing, even though she never said so explicitly. (She was more likely to rationalize it as a money-saving endeavor…)
We treasure the memories of her gifted handiwork: the Easter outfits, the new clothes for school, gowns for proms or weddings, and later, christening gowns for her grandchildren. Sadly, there are few photos of the clothing she made for the people she loved.
Learning from Mom
Mom taught me to knit and sew when I was six. No doubt it was a tactic to distract me while she tended the younger children, or worked on deadline for someone’s promised outfit. No matter her motivation, I’ve always been grateful for her lessons. Given parental anxieties today, it’s hard to believe that she encouraged me to use her sewing machine when I was just 6 years old…
For the first 30 years of my life I sewed or knitted almost everything I wore, from blue jeans to dresses and outerwear. I also made my bridesmaids’ dresses.
From our New England homes, I had easy access to woolen mills; could buy fabrics and yarns at outlet prices directly from the producers. Mom loved going on those fabric shopping expeditions, driving across rural New Hampshire in search of woolen mills.
It’s been a long time since I went on a fabric or fiber shopping adventure… It’s been way too long since I did any sewing.
Dusting Off Those Crafting Skills
Last week I tried to mend a garment and discovered my Pfaff sewing machine was in dire need of a tune-up, after sitting idle for years while I focused on a West Coast career. Luckily I found a great repair service for this vintage machine, and it was all tuned up and back home within two days.
To relearn my sewing skills, I’ve begun work on a meditation cushion using materials on hand. It’s been an interesting experience, relearning how to use this machine, how to rewind the bobbin or select the right presser foot for the task, and how to execute things I’ve long since forgotten, such as how to insert a zipper for a pillow cushion. It’s also causing my fingers to move in unaccustomed ways, to execute precise tasks like threading a needle — reminding me that my fingers aren’t as dexterous as they used to be.
I’ve noticed a change in the quality of the written instructions that accompany the sewing patterns. For example, my pattern says, “Insert the zipper.” Patterns written years ago would have explained how… Luckily, I’ve got some old reference guides that describe alternative methods (e.g., for garments versus pillows), so I was able to insert the zipper without having to rip it out and start over.
I’ve also resumed work on a knitting project I began a few months ago, committed to finishing it before winter’s end. As the photo shows, I’ve embarked on the trickiest part: seaming the pieces and attaching the sleeves to the body of the sweater. If all goes well, this project will be done this week.
Thanks, Mom, for sharing your love of sewing and knitting. They bring me joy — and remind me of you whenever my hands are occupied with fiber crafts.