Some of you know that I hosted “Sewing Camp” for two granddaughters, ages 10 and 11, this summer. Each of them brought a sewing machine, one still new in the box. We bought fabric, cut out pattern pieces, and threaded bobbins and needles.
A little aside here: Sewing needles are my nemeses—trying to shove thread through a tiny, invisible hole brings out the Yankee in me; it fills my head with cuss words that battle to escape through my mouth. The only way I can see the hole in the needle is to hold a piece of white cardboard behind the hole—and then it’s still really hard to get the thread through. Each time, I wonder if this is the day sewing will join the lengthy list of items I used to do: “I used to be able to digest dairy,” and “I used to wear bikinis,” and “I used to get up off the floor without holding onto something.”
Ella’s machine needs about a foot of thread trailing off the needle to start or the thread disappears right back into the machine at the first stitch. Took us way too long, and way too many rethreadings, to figure out that little peculiarity. New to sewing, the girls alternately revved the foot pedals like Dale Earnhardt, then stopped abruptly like an old lady at a yellow light. RRRRRRn. RRRRRRn. Finally realized I sew with my entire foot on the pedal, and they were using their toes.
Ella had chosen a fabric I’ll call “Devilour,” since it was hell to work with. Fuzz everywhere, sliding seams, jamming thread. She fought the fabric for all four leg seams, but when her machine broke a needle, I took pity and told her I’d finish the garment on my trusty Husqvarna. Those chainsaw folks invented a sewing machine that can sew a hem in denim, right through two overlapping seams. I loooove my Husqvarna.
But it proved no match for Devilour.
Jammed again and again, bent two needles, and just as I finished, the machine threw a Hail Mary wad of thread in the bottom side of the fabric and jammed for its last time. It’s at the sewing machine doctor’s now, undergoing expensive tests.
Molly, who had chosen regular, wonderful, no-fuss fleece, came down with strep throat after the first day and missed days two and three. Meanwhile, Ella tried her hand at a pair of pull-on cotton shorts, this time with a cooperative fabric. She was perhaps halfway through when she stopped and said, “This is really hard. I thought you just put the fabric in there and the machine did all the work.”
She’s got a point. You load up the washer, the dryer, the dishwasher, push a few buttons, and walk away. The sewing machine is the complete opposite of that. Home appliances were invented to make a homemaker’s life easier. And they did—except for the sewing machine. It’s kind of the dinosaur of the appliance world, balky and slow and hopelessly out of step with the times. You can walk into department stores and find any number of factory-made clothing.
So why sew?
I’ll bet you expected me to wax nostalgic for sewing, mention how economical, how satisfying it is to create your own clothing, make crafts, etc.
Nope. It used to be economical. I could dress the girls in homemade clothes for far less than I would have spent on ready-made. Nowadays fabric is costly and pattern prices are ridiculous. I mainly use my sewing machine to mend seams and shorten hems. Utility sewing.
But then one day I’ll realize that all my flannel pajama bottoms are ratty and old, and rather than limit myself to the stupid cartoon character prints at the stores I’ll sew in fabrics of my own choosing. And there I am again. A cavewoman with her dinosaur. Which I pray survives the Devilour.