For the first time ever I just purchased my own sewing basket. And it’s cool. Wrought iron curved handle on top, black burnt-out velvet classy French-style motif on cream-colored muslin, the inside entirely lined in black satin; a coffin for my thread. For the last 10 or so years I have been using a cardboard case decorated with faux-faded photos of cute little smiling girls in fancy hats peeking out from amongst a profusion of flowers. Very cutesy. I simply loathe it. It was a sisterly gift, and most of the time I could live with it tucked inside a closet, until I needed to haul it out to retrieve a needle for removing a splinter, (which happens to be the most common use for a needle around here) or actually hem something instead of letting the dress just be too long, (dragging it along the ground until it frays, rolling over my skirts with my office chair or the thrilling near-death experience of stepping on the edge when walking up stairs) or rolling up my pant cuffs. Then I’d pull it out and get all squinty-eyed with displeasure – barfy-cute box, sewing, shudder.
When I look at the word “seamstress” all I see is stress. Seams are things that breathe in and out on my clothing depending on my body shape du jour, or are threads to be torn out and redone if some hapless piece of fabric has had the dire misfortune to fall into my hands. (The second most-used item in my sewing box: the seam ripper. It’s like a jabby little sword and I admit to a minute degree of pleasure at ripping stuff up with it, mumbling fairytale curses all the while.) I have an adorable little classic black Singer sewing machine my mother gave me 30 years ago, that’s probably simpler than any child’s model these days, but with me at the controls it’s a disaster. I like the machine – I just hate sewing. The box the Singer lives in clicks open with a satisfying thwack, and you get a heavy hit of aged metal and oil upon opening the lid; a musty scent like old clarinet in an aged instrument case. When you pull it out it’s cold, heavy, nostalgic and then transforms into an object of great frustration to me.
I never had a Home-Ec class. I did try to take a sort of minimalist version our high school offered – Bachelor Living, I believe it was called. I think they wouldn’t take me because I was a girl. My boyfriend got in and made an awesome navy blue down-filled vest, though. seventieseventieseventies My mom majored in Home-Ec when she was in high school, and she was happy to sew away for the female members of our family; I think it was her way to be creative, but sometimes she made poor choices. One particularly bad one was to sew matching pink mini skirts and vests for my high school age hottie sister and pudgy freckled third grade me. Once again, I shudder. I rarely wear pink to this day.
I can do some sneaky kind of sewing, you know, the things that don’t matter because no one will see? When I was in college I ransacked my wee grandma Lee’s closet and came away with several sweet vintage dresses, that just needed a little taking in at the waist. Easy enough to put it on, pin it and sew it up. In fact, I was imitating my grandmother’s style of sewing, who also had to alter most of her clothing. But anything from scratch? Tears and hair pulling are guaranteed. I realize it’s all got to do with patience, a concept to me about the length of an egg timer. That must be why when I was just organizing my new sewing basket I was getting all snarly over how messy thread is. If it wasn’t wrapping back up onto the spool properly it was thrown at the cats…Playfully.
I call favors of friends when I need any real sewing done. And dry cleaners usually do alterations for quite a reasonable price. But it’s nice to know I have a basket that makes me smile to store my 30-year old spools of thread (several shades of pink) my mom gave me with the Singer, a place to throw those extra buttons that come on new blouses and such, and most of all a black satin built-into-the-lid pin cushion for those splinter extracting devices, sewing needles.