My mother has always prided herself on her sewing conquests. She sewed her veil, bridesmaids’ dresses, most of her own clothes, baby clothes, doll clothes, dolls, curtains, quilts. You name it, and she can sew it. Could, yes, but it took her forever. It wasn’t that she lost her skills or that she lost interest. She simply got a job and still ran a household and taxied three children to multiple activities.
Somewhere along the line, my sister, Lisa, and I came to the conclusion that if we were going to get the clothes Mom was supposedly going to sew us, we would have to make them ourselves. Our first efforts were difficult. We learned it was possible to pucker the wrong way even in a gathered skirt. We learned the importance of right sides together and became all too familiar with a seam ripper. But somewhere along the way, our tortured stitches and tangled bobbins became even seams and a smoothly dipping needle. By the end of ninth grade, I felt comfortable altering clothes, and the hems of many of my hand-me-down dresses climbed. By tenth grade, I felt comfortable sewing according to patterns and came out with a coral blouse I loved and a denim shirt that lasted more than fifteen years. I was also embellishing patterns and produced a series of seasonal shirts, my favorite of which was a red velour turtleneck with white sequin icicles worn at Christmastime with matching white-sequined tennis shoes. By eleventh grade, I was altering and combining patterns. For example, I took a criss-cross bodice from a sundress and attached it to the popular-at-the-time harem pants from a jumper pattern. Up until that point, my mother, who measures everything down to the milk in her tea, began going just a little nutty. I do believe she paced the living room the entire time I was sewing the harem pant outfit, convinced it wouldn’t fit. When it did fit, and I twirled in the living room showing off my masterpiece, Mom huffed and said, “Well, I guess you didn’t learn anything from this!”
And thus began my sewing for my enjoyment and my mother’s anxiety. I remedied the situation by just not telling her what I was doing. For instance, my senior year, I was headed out of town to for state finals in a science competition. I would need to give a presentation, and I just didn’t like any of my clothes. My teacher was driving all of us who had qualified and would be picking us up around 1:30 PM that Sunday afternoon. When we got home from church around 12:15, I sneaked downstairs and peeked at the extra fabric in the laundry room. I spied some cream-colored thick cotton that would be perfect for a pencil skirt pattern I had. I whipped it out from the bottom of the fabric pile, extricated the pattern I needed from the pattern box, and headed into the basement game room that my mother seldom monitored. After setting up our card table in the center of the room, I quietly brought out Mom’s sewing machine and set it up. At 1:15 I walked upstairs with an almost perfect pencil skirt. The interfacing faced the wrong way along the top, but I figured that nobody sees that part anyway.
As I walked up the stairs snipping the loose threads off the skirt, my mother caught my eye, and I could see that the wheels in her head, putting two and two together.
“Where did you get that skirt, young lady?” she asked.
“I made it.”
“When?” A kind of thick insistence crept into her voice.
“Now?” she repeated. “You mean you finished it now.”
“No, I started and finished it now. I’m going to wear it for my presentation.”
“B-but you’re supposed to leave in fifteen minutes!” she babbled with a bit of a stutter. “What were you going to do if you didn’t finish?” Her eyes bugged out a bit, and her cheeks began to flush.
“But I did finish, and now I have to pack.” I headed down the hallway toward my room.
She followed me. “Let me see it,” she demanded, snatching the skirt and holding it close to her eyes. She always did that when she was frustrated, as though anger turned her part blind. “What are you going to do about this interfacing? You can’t leave it like that!”
“Why not?” I asked, snatching it back. “It’s not like anybody can see that part.”
Mom opened and closed her mouth several times, but no sound came out. She turned around and headed back down the hall. I could hear her stomping as I stuffed my clothes and toiletries in my small suitcase. It was like she needed to hurry up and get out all of the anxiety in fast forward since she had been deprived of the worry-time by not knowing what I had been up to for that hour. She was still stomping when the high school physics teacher pulled into the driveway with a carful of other kids headed off to state finals.
“Bye,” I said, as I headed out the door. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” Mom said. “Even if you’re going to be the death of me.” She waved to me from the front door as we pulled away. Little did she know that my sewing was hardly going to be the death of her. Within the next two years, my little sister, Lisa, would be winging patterns and tracing her body on the fabric. My mother’s problems with sewing daughters had just begun.