Life’s Lessons – ???th in a possible mini series

Memories are linked to the senses. Smells, tastes, images, music – each have their own way of sending one of those old black and white photo-type images with splotches of color here and there, dancing in slow motion across my line of vision. There’s a sound that I didn’t even realize was a trigger for one of those images until I heard it quite a while ago. Every so often now, I’ll try to recreate it just for the flood of warmth.

My mother was an amazing seamstress. She sewed curtains, all our clothes (mine, my three sisters and hers), quilts and anything else that she felt we needed. I am spoiled with my sewing room. Mom had either the large wooden dining room table in the front room or the Formica and metal kitchen table – obviously in the kitchen. Didn’t matter which table, the sound the scissors made as her hands guided them along the lines and through the fabric was magical.

Since she was a single mom, working full-time as a Jr. High English teacher, her evenings were packed with supper, grading papers, maintaining the house, helping us four girls with our needs and sewing. My bedroom was pretty well equal distance from either the front room or the kitchen.  If I fell asleep to that sound {sorry – it will just be “that sound” because there are no words to describe it}, I knew I would have new clothes soon.

Sewing became an interest, a hobby, a talent that I shared with my mother. Sewing became that common denominator that meant I got Mom’s time and attention and, if I was really lucky, her praise. It started on Saturday afternoons as a reward for getting the house all clean.  We’d go ‘bumming’ usually to fabric stores and come home with multiple projects to create. When I was trying to figure out just exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up {obviously that was pointless to waste time trying to decide that since I’ve made a vow to never grow up} and what exactly college could do to further those aspirations, I finally landed on home economics. I took several classes in sewing and cooking in preparation to one day teach. A marriage and a consequential pregnancy put an end to that long-term goal rather quickly. Those life changes didn’t stop me from continuing this sewing hobby as I pretty well sewed all my kids clothes and their stuffed animals and all the curtains for all the windows and tents and crafts and whatever else I could figure out how to create.

A few years ago, thanks to my sister, I came to be in possession of her sewing machine. I thought she had bought her a smaller, newer one when she started losing her eye sight and was surprised when I opened the case and saw the familiar yellow and green coloring. So surprised in fact that my eyes started leaking just a bit as I remembered many things I learned while sitting in front of this machine.

The enjoyment went out of sewing for a while when Mom died. That was a time when I found myself ‘housecleaning’ my life, so to speak as I re-evaluated every little thing I did as it applied to my relationship with her. After careful scrutiny, I then had to decide if it was something I wanted to keep in my life or something I could let die with her. Sewing stuck around – with a bit of forcefulness – but it stuck around nonetheless and I’m slowly finding the joy and excitement coming back to it as I try to create projects for my grandchildren.

Anywho, here are the top 10 lessons I’ve learned at the hands of my sewing machine:

  1. Choose your pattern and the fabric and notions wisely because your mother will make you wear the finished product. Everyone will see you and you want to feel good about what you have created.
  2. Unpicking is a necessary part of the process. You will make mistakes and you need to be ready and willing to figure out where you went wrong and fix the problem. Fixing mistakes in this manner is easier with help. Many times I remember applying pressure on the two pieces of fabric as she ran the unpicker through the stitches, popping them out quickly as I pulled.
  3. The grain line, with an arrow on each end, is printed on pattern pieces for a reason. If you don’t pin your grain line straight, your project will be pulled in all different skiddiwampus directions instead of hanging attractively. Following the grain line is worth the extra effort.
  4. Sufficient pinning down of the pattern pieces to the fabric is essential to an accurate cutting job. An accurate cutting job is essential to pride in your finished project.
  5. There is a guide sheet supplied for every project. Following the guide sheet and performing all the steps in the proper order is the only way to achieve satisfaction when your project is finished. You cannot skip a bunch of smaller steps thinking you can do them all at the end. Your project will not look right and your mother will use your experience in her English classes as how not to do a job.
  6. There are seam allowances provided for in the construction process. As long as you stay within that allotted amount of space, you will not wonder why your finished project doesn’t fit together correctly.
  7. Every machine is different – somehow, someway. Allow yourself to be taught these differences by someone whose been there and used that particular machine before you.
  8. Back stitching is not a negative action. Going backwards can be reinforcing and stabilizing.
  9. If you use a serger, don’t panic because it goes back a stitch for every two stitches it goes forward. You’re ultimately moving in the right direction and you will reach the end if you stick to it.
  10. Hand stitching is a blessing. Sometimes a portion of a project or the entire project is delicate enough it requires a lighter touch.

So, thanks, Mom, for being willing to take the time {and patience} to teach me to sew. It’s a hobby that’s kept me from coming unraveled more than once!

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