When I was small my mother allowed me to use her old sewing machine once she replaced it with a new one. It was an old, blue Singer that was notorious for jamming. It drove me out of my mind. I had not yet developed skill so the least bit of resistance or malfunction tripped my frustration. Mom would happily sew away in her own little world and I'd want to throw the blue beast on the floor. I couldn't understand what on earth she enjoyed about sewing when all I ever got were tangles, knots, and a jammed machine. "Keep at it, don't give up, take your time. You're just a beginner. It will get easier." But I couldn't get past the frustration.
I could do basic repairs like sewing on buttons or fixing a seam by the time I entered Junior High when I had to take Home Economics. The teacher was a miserable woman who found out my mother was a seamstress and therefore expected perfection from me. This did nothing to endear me to the art of sewing. Mom got me through that class with her gentle patience and encouragement...as well as the secret agreement that my teacher was in fact being a completely nit-picky twit. In the meantime, I picked up crocheting from my grandmother. I did graduate high school knowing how to read a pattern and construct a basic garment, nothing too fancy or tailored very precisely though and it had to have explicit instruction from which I would not dream of deviating.
In college I picked up cross stitching and continued a little crocheting. I began to see how these sorts of things could be relaxing, contemplative, restoring, even meditative. I made a lot of gifts that way. Especially in college, in between reading, studying, and writing papers, it felt good to disengage the brain for a bit and focus on something else and yet have something to show for the time. I even went so far as to design some of my own pieces since I couldn't find patterns like what I wanted to do. Mom and Nana were delighted to see I'd found some sort of art involving needles and threads and that I enjoyed it and made it my own. They encouraged that and showed off my work to people they knew. I felt like I had accomplished some rite of passage.
Shortly after getting married I acquired a very old, very heavy, but very trusty sewing machine from our landlord. It had been his grandmother's and it seemed his fiancee turned up her nose at the old machine. I was delighted to receive it after giving it a try. It worked like a charm and had an external belt and other features that made maintenance easy. I could do repairs and minor alterations now without having to rely on mom's machine when we went to visit. I also had fun making just a few very simple outfits for Diana when she was a baby. Mom was thrilled to share some baby patterns with me and coach me along the way. Heavy as my machine was, I paid to ship it to Trinidad when we moved there.
Then in Trinidad I found I was pregnant with Calypso. Diana had been born in the middle of winter so most of my maternity clothes were winter-wear, which was much too heavy for the tropics. Off the rack maternity clothes were either hard to come by in Trinidad or extremely expensive. I had my mom send me some patterns and I set to work sewing since fabric there was very inexpensive. I had a couple of disasters and Mom was not close at hand to help me figure out how to fix them. It was just the machine and me. I ripped out mistakes and resewed new mistakes and jerry-rigged some I just couldn't cope with ripping again. I also had some nice successes. Mom wanted to hear all about it and see pictures. She laughed about my endless mistakes but commended me for figuring out how to make it work telling me that was a normal part of the process. I felt more confident. Then we were robbed and the thieves took my machine. We had a very high wall with broken bottle embedded in it. I will admit I prayed they all got a hernia or two trying to heft that machine over the wall.
When we came back to the US and Mr. Lime found a job, he got me a new sewing machine. It was a pretty basic model but it did what I needed it to do and has remained reliable. I continued to do repairs and minor alterations and the occasional item of clothes for the kids or me. Then came the challenge of costumes for the living history farm where the kids and I have volunteered. I was able to lay my hands on a basic pattern for the blouses and bonnets...VERY basic. Basic as in, "Here's a rough shape to cut out with a bunch of pieces but we aren't going to give you any directions as to how to assemble them. Oh, and for the skirt you're completely on your own. Here's a picture of how it should look." Yowza, I was just a wee tad nervous about this whole endeavor. Thankfully, I had some borrowed garments I could examine to see how they were constructed and I had a book that explained different techniques. I was thrilled when I managed to produce wearable, reasonably accurate costumes AND to have my mother tell me they were well-constructed. This is the woman who made my wedding gown, her gown, and all the gowns for my attendants, the woman who made my prom gown and Diana's, the woman who had been making quilts since before I was born (including one for me with scraps of my old baby clothes and kitchen curtains she had also made). This woman looked on my work, the work of a kid who used to scream and cry at the old blue beast sewing machine, and she pronounced it "very good."
So now I am working on this quilt for Diana. Mom and I worked together on the one I have on my bed but she did at least 85% of the work. I committed to make my first ever quilt from start to finish for Diana. Mom has advised me. She helped buy the fabric as a gift for Diana. Mom asked if I wanted her to help sew it or if I was determined to do the project myself. I told her it's my goal to do all the work myself on this one. It's the next rite of passage for the machine and me. She seemed to understand. The more I get to know my way around the machine the more accomplished I feel and the more I understand about Mom and the line of seamstresses, knitters, tatters, and quilters who came before her in our family.
This past week and weekend it's rained a lot so I have been catching up on this project because in three short weeks Diana heads off to school. The quilt needs to be done by then. In the process I am finding the stitches don't just bind fabric together. They are binding generations.